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Rare albino whale puts on a show off Australian coast

By Brian Walker, CNN
September 27, 2012 -- Updated 1509 GMT (2309 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The albino humpback's nickname is "Migaloo"
  • Researchers are tracking his movements
  • Migaloo was first seen in 1991 as a juvenile, expert says

Read a version of this story in Arabic

(CNN) -- It may seem straight out of Moby Dick, but a rare white whale is thrilling Australians off the eastern coast.

The albino humpback has been nicknamed "Migaloo" by researchers who track his movements.

Albino whales are rare and Migaloo is the only documented all-white humpback adult, according to Peter Harrison, director of marine ecology research at Southern Cross University in Australia.

Migaloo was first seen in 1991 when he was a juvenile, Harrison says, and researchers believe he is now in his 20s.

The humpbacks are on their annual migration from their breeding grounds along the Great Barrier Reef back to feed in the Antarctic.

The albino humpback whale nicknamed Migaloo cruises along the eastern coast of Australia near Coffs Harbour with another whale in 2005. On Thursday, June 19, he was spotted swimming along the coast near Sydney on his annual migration. The albino humpback whale nicknamed Migaloo cruises along the eastern coast of Australia near Coffs Harbour with another whale in 2005. On Thursday, June 19, he was spotted swimming along the coast near Sydney on his annual migration.
Albinos of the animal kingdom
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Photos: Albinos of the animal kingdom Photos: Albinos of the animal kingdom

"Everyone here is quite excited," says Oskar Peterson, who runs a website that tracks sightings of white whales around the globe. "We see him almost every year now, but it's still front page news when he turns up."

Migaloo is expected to pass by Cape Byron, the easternmost point in Australia, in the coming hours after passing by Surfer's Paradise, Peterson says. Spotters of the whale share sightings at his website

Male humpbacks can travel up to 140 kilometers (87 miles) a day during their migration, according to experts.

But they often hang around Cape Byron searching for mates, so whale watchers may see the albino humpback for a few more days, Harrison says.

He warns fans to steer clear -- at least 500 meters away at all times -- to ensure the whale's survival. Too much noise and chasing can disturb him and cause him to use precious energy he needs for migration.

Whale watchers may be able to enjoy Migaloo for decades. Humpback whales are believed to survive as long as 90 years in the wild, Harrison says.

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