A white Humpback whale calf, probably just a few weeks old, was spotted and photographed in the Whitsunday Islands off Australia's Queensland Coast. The calf was probably born in northern Great Barrier Reef waters and is just a couple of weeks old. 

 


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White Humpback whale calf off Queensland

05/10/2011 08:54:16
whales/whales_2010/white_whale_calf

White humpback whale calf spotted by Wayne Fewings. Photo credit Wayne Fewings.

White whale calf
October 2011. Quite often the Great Barrier Reef's marine environment surprises and astounds those who play and work within its watery depths. The recent sighting of a white humpback whale calf is just one of those occasions. These amazing photos were taken by Mr Wayne Fewings in the Whitsunday Islands recently.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) Manager Species Conservation Dr Mark Read said sighting such a unique animal reinforces the importance of the Great Barrier Reef and how people out on the water could contribute to our understanding of this amazing ecosystem by reporting sightings such as this.

‘Probably just a few weeks old'
"The calf was likely to have been born in northern Great Barrier Reef waters and is probably at least a couple of weeks old. We can make this assessment because its dorsal fin is quite erect and the dorsal fin of newborn calves is curved over and takes time to straighten out," he said.

"Nearly all humpback whales are dark on their upper body and this colouration is caused by the skin pigments called melanins. A purely white humpback whale does not have melanin pigments in its skin. To speculate on the animals parents is difficult, but what we can say is that this calf is the offspring from two animals that were carrying the white (amelanistic) gene, resulting in this unique white calf." 

The most famous Queensalnd white whale has been named Migaloo; Migaloo is a fully grown white Humback whale that was first spotted off Queensland in in 1991 and has been spotted often since, including 2011. 

Wayne Fewings took these spectacular photos off
Queensland.

10-15 white humpbacks
"From sightings it is believed there is likely to be around 10 to 15 white or predominantly white humpback whales in the east coast population of around 13,000 - 15,000 animals. At this time of year humpback whales are on their southern migration returning to Antarctic waters and this animal will be feeding heavily from its mother, trying to put on a good blubber layer to protect it in the cold Antarctic waters."

Lucky spot
While out on his boat enjoying the Reef, Wayne Fewings spotted a pod of whales in the distance.

"We were just drifting when I noticed the smaller whale in the pod was white. I couldn't believe my eyes, and I just grabbed my camera. Then the white calf approached my boat, seeming to want to check us out. I was just so amazed at seeing this animal, it made me think how truly astounding the Great Barrier Reef is. I feel very lucky to have witnessed this, it's a once in a lifetime experience."

Don't approach whales
Dr Read said that approach distances for whales were in place to protect both the whales and onlookers.

Approach distances to whales must be adhered to. Vessels cannot approach closer than 300m to a whale calf. If a whale approaches the vessel, as in this instance, vessel operators must keep the motor out of gear and wait for the whales to move away before motoring away.

Conservation success
The east coast group of humpback whales are a conservation success story with the population brought back from the edge of extinction with numbers increasing each year since the halting of whaling in the early 1960's.

The GBRMPA's Sightings Network receives reports of unusual, extraordinary and iconic species and events which help management and conservation of the Great Barrier Reef. Since 2007, the network has collected more than 5000 reports of over 10,000 creatures and events of special interest in the Great Barrier Reef.

ALBINISM, LEUCISM AND OTHER COLOUR VARIATIONS IN ANIMALS

Leucism is a very unusual condition whereby the pigmentation cells in an animal or bird fail to develop properly. This can result in unusual white patches appearing on the animal, or, more rarely, completely white creatures.

Albinism is a different condition. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is that in albinism the eyes are usually pink or red, and albinism affects the entire animal, not just patches.

This occassionaly causes very excited biologists to think they have discovered a new species, when in fact leucism is the cause of the unusual markings they have seen. Click here to see our gallery of leucistic animals and birds

The inquisitive whale calf swam towards the boat. - Photo bt Wayne Fewings 

 

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