Thursday, 29 September 2011

White Whale spotted in North

UPDATE: A WHITE whale calf spotted off the Whitsundays coast is believed to be just a few weeks old but it's impossible to tell yet whether the animal is related to Migaloo.

Species expert Mark Read, of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said without DNA information experts would be unable to link the calf to the other famous white whale.

``It would be pure speculation, we would have to get genetic material from the calf and then analyse that and its relationship to Migaloo,'' he said.

``We know from basic genetics that this animal could have come from a dark mum and dark father and Wayne Fewings, who took the photograph, said the female was in attendance was a standard dark humpback.''

Wayne Fewings captured the white calf on camera while diving near the entrance to Cid Harbour last week.

Mr Fewings, who calls both the Whitsundays and the Gold Coast home, said he and his son's family were in a 4.5m runabout boat when the white calf, believed to be around 4m in length, and two predominantly black adult humpback whales swam towards them.

The calf raised its head out of the water and then dived before coming within four or five metres of the runabout.

One of the adult whales then swam over and guided the calf away while Mr Fewings and his family looked on in amazement and took photographs.

``We saw this pod of whales and the calf and saw them frolicking so we stopped the boat and that's when the action happened,'' he said.

``The calf, being a silly pup, when he popped his head out and saw the boat I think that excited his interest and he started to come towards us but his mother didn't like that too much so she got him away but we managed to capture all the photos.''

He said the calf's white colour made it easily visible below the blue waters of the Whitsundays.

``When it was porpoise diving, I managed to capture about three quarters of the back and the tail and then you can see the head quite clearly under the water because it's so white.''

Mr Read said the white colouring was caused by genetics, which left the whale without melanin.

He said it was likely the calf was born in the last few weeks in the area around Cairns.

``From the photographs we can gather that it's probably five to six metres long and one of the things we can see is the dorsal fin is not laid over, it's fully erect, so we can say it's not a newborn calf a couple of weeks old and it's most likely it was born on the northern Great Barrier Reef probably either north of Cairns or somewhere close to Cairns.''

Mr Fewings' daughter-in-law Rebecca, who was in the runabout with husband Gene and their children Baxter, 3, and Ryder 12 months, said it was amazing to see the whale in its element in the natural environment.

"We saw a lot of black whales while we were out there and it looked like a dolphin at first and all of a sudden then it started breaching," she said.

"It started coming up and showing his belly and then towards the end it started flapping its tail."

Humpback whales are a common sight off the coast of North Queensland with about 14,000 migrating between Australia and Antarctica each year.

Mr Read said between 10 and 15 of these whales were white or predominantly white.

The last official sighting of Migaloo was by a cargo ship crew on August 10 about 10km north of Pipon Island in Far North Queensland, according to the White Whale Research Centre.

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