Captain Ahab may have dedicated his life to hunting the seven seas for an elusive white whale, but these days all he would need is a Twitter account. That is, as long as he would settle for a hump back rather than a sperm whale.
First spotted along Australia's east coast more than 20 years ago, a rare white humpback whale known as "Migaloo" has attracted whale watchers from around the world. Now, the famous whale has made another appearance on the coast of Australia in his annual migration northward.
For years, the Australia-based White Whale Research Center has compiled sightings, photos, and information about Migaloo and the other white whales seen around Australia. And since 2009 they have been making some of that information public on Migaloo's personal Twitter account, which allows whale watchers from around the world track the humpback’s travels up and down the coast, the BBC reports.
When Migaloo was first spotted back in 1991, he was the only known white humpback whale at the time, but in the years since keen-eyed whale watchers have seen two others, even nicknaming one “Migaloo, Junior,” Jane Lee reports for National Geographic. With this latest spotting, some experts suggest the whale is too small to be Migaloo and instead are calling this whale his son.
But why is he white? Many call the creature albino, but the diagnosis is more than just having white coloration. As Hannah Waters reported for Smithsonian.com in 2013:
Even though Migaloo is all white, scientists are skeptical that he is albino because he doesn’t have red or pink eyes—like other humpbacks, he has brown eyes. Instead, he’s considered the more conservative “hypo-pigmented,” describing a generic loss of skin color. It’s also possible that Migaloo is leucistic [which is a partial loss of pigment].
The whale's popularity isn't also without its issues. While the Australian government mandates that ships must keep distance from any whales, an alleged run-in with a yacht about a decade ago left Migaloo with deep scars on his back that can still be spotted to this day. Since then, government officials have set strict regulations on how close boats, helicopters, drones, and other vessels can approach the rare whale to make sure Migaloo can travel unmolested.
"All whales have a 300 meter zone, but the white whale has 500 meter zone,” White Whale Research Center founder Oskar Peterson tells Amy Mitchell-Whittington for the Brisbane Times. "Every whale watcher is passionate about whales, that is why it has been put in place, it needs to be monitored and policed.”
Despite the restrictions, reports of curious onlookers getting too close are unfortunately somewhat common, especially given Migaloo’s unusual appearance. While most whale watching vessels respect the regulations, Josh Reinke, a researcher with Humpbacks and High-Rises, tells Mitchell-Whittington that he witnessed several private boats and people on jet skis butting in on Migaloo’s personal space as the whale passed by the Queensland coast this week. Australian officials have since reminded the public to keep clear of Migaloo so the whale can pass by without harm.
"It's what every whale watcher dreams of, but it is really important that this animal's space is respected and no undue distress is caused," Australian Environment Minister Steven Miles tells Mitchell-Whittington.
If you want to track Migaloo’s travels on Twitter, follow the White Whale Research Center.