Migaloo or Moby Dick? Rare White Whale Spotted

Migaloo, an extremely rare humpback whale who happens to be all white, has been spotted for the first time this year off the coast of New South Wales, Australia.

The whale, which is one of only a few known white whales in the world, is extremely popular on the eastern seaboard of Australia. First spotted in 1991, Migaloo has been a regular, if intermittent, visitor to the area ever since. Around 8 am Tuesday morning, the whale was captured on a mobile phone camera off Green Cape, according to The Independent. Oskar Peterson, founder of the White Whale Research Center, confirmed that the picture was of Migaloo, and that the sighting fits with the whale’s known migratory pattern, which takes the animal from Antarctica to North Queensland, Australia, and back again.

On Thursday, the White Whale was spotted once again, this time swimming in a “competition pod” with four other humpback whales, according to MailOnline. In this type of grouping, the whales attempt to jostle each other, competing to be a the head of the pod as it travels north. Though fans were eager to see pictures of the white whale, observers had to remain at a safe distance. After a run-in with an outrigger boat in the past that left the whale scarred, Australian officials passed tougher laws to protect the unique animal. Boats are required to remain 500 feet from Migaloo while aircraft are required to stay 2,000 feet away.

While some media outlets have described the white whale as an albino, io9 points out that there is some debate about whether he really is. Quoting a report by Hannah Waters for Smithsonian, they point out that true albino animals have no melanin anywhere in their bodies, resulting in white skin and pink eyes. While Migaloo is white, like an albino, he nonetheless has brown eyes like all other known humpback whales. It is far more likely that Migaloo suffers from a condition called leucism, which manifests in the loss of pigmentation on the skin.

Migaloo isn’t the only whale in the news lately. Last month, The Inquisitr reported the story of “Valentina,” a female humpback whale who nearly died in a fishing net before researchers happened upon her and were able to free the whale, saving its life.

Migaloo is expected to continue north over the next few days, giving observers in Australia plenty of chances to catch a glimpse of the white whale before he heads home to Antarctica later in the summer.

[Images via io9 and MailOnline]