A rare albino whale – feared to be the world’s most famous white humpback Migaloo – has been found washed ashore at Mallacoota, in eastern Victoria, Australia.
The whale’s carcass was discovered on the beach, which is only accessible via water, on Saturday morning. It’s not clear how long it had been there.
Many fear the dead animal could be Migaloo – the snow-white whale who had regularly been spotted off the coast of Australia since 1991 and become somewhat of a sea life celebrity.
Local resident Peter Coles, who was out fishing when he kayaked across to see the dead mammal, told Sky News: “It was beautiful even though it was dead. It was pretty spectacular. It was pure white and marble looking. I thought it looked like a sculpture, it almost didn’t look real.
“I paced it out and it was 10m long. I didn’t touch it and it was a bit smelly. There weren’t any signs of decomposition but it did look very, very dead.”
Mr Coles, who took photos of the humpback, went on: “I felt sad for the poor creature, not knowing it might be Migaloo.”
He said it was only later he found out about the rare albino whale, adding: “When talk came about, I realised it could be something quite rare if it is the white whale. It would mean I witnessed something incredible without knowing it at the time.”
Photographs and genetic sampling to determine whale’s identity
Migaloo – a male humpback estimated to have been born in 1986 – has been missing for the last two years after losing his tracking chip.
Marine experts have said the location of the whale lines up with Migaloo’s migration pattern.
Scientists are currently attempting to determine if the whale is Migaloo through the use of photographs and genetic sampling.
Wildlife scientist Dr Vanessa Pirotta who is part of the team investigating the incident tweeted: “Currently working with other scientists to identify this individual. This may or may not be #Migaloo. Nothing confirmed yet. #watchthisspace”.
Mr Coles has said he’s not sure if the creature could be Migaloo, pointing to its size, and telling Sky News: “I think people are quite hesitant to call it Migaloo as many thought the whale would have been bigger.”
Migaloo is understood to be around 15m long, and about 40-tonnes.
People have been warned not to touch or interfere with the dead whale, and Victoria’s environment department (DELWP Victoria) has said significant penalties will apply to anyone attempting to take unauthorised samples – such as teeth – as a souvenir.
Migaloo means “white fellow” in Aboriginal, and he is the only known all-white humpback whale in the world.
In 2010 Migaloo was filmed 1.2 miles from Green Island near the Great Barrier Reef in North Queensland, the first time such a creature had ever been captured on film.
Humpback whales have an expected lifespan of around 45 – 50 years. If estimates are correct, Migaloo would be around 36 years old now.