Concern has been sparked after Australia’s elusive all-white humpback has not been seen in two years, suggesting the creature might have died.
Migaloo the humpback whale was first spotted off Byron Bay - located on Australia's east coast - back in 1991. At this time of year (June-July), humpbacks migrate up the coast from Antarctic waters, but so far, there’s been no sign of Migaloo.
With it being 24 months since the last confirmed sighting of Migaloo, it’s been suggested that factors such as climate change and human-caused threats may have led to the whale’s demise.
Australia’s Canberra Times recently ran an informative piece questioning whether Migaloo is still alive somewhere out there, or has in fact died, however does note Migaloo’s mysterious disappearance could simply be down to the variations in whale migration.
#Migaloo or any predominantly white #whale is considered a ‘special interest animal’. The regulations require all vessels to remain 500 meters away. Aircraft can fly no closer than 610m vertically. Drones must not be operated closer than 100 meters vertically or horizontally. pic.twitter.com/iayo9PrGbf— Migaloo the Whale (@Migaloo1) April 18, 2021
According to the wildlife charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation, ‘climate change is one of the biggest threats facing whales and dolphins today’.
The charity notes that whales haven't had time to adapt to our fast-changing climate and warming sea temperatures affect the timing and ranges of whales’ migration.
That means Migaloo may be MIA because he arrived on Australia’s east coast early, or has yet to make his way there.
Migaloo could have even skipped Australia completely, and instead headed to New Zealand. Warmer water also means some whales no longer migrate at all and remain in the Southern Ocean.
The Canberra Times also said social circumstances may be to blame for Migaloo’s disappearance, for example, he might have joined up with another pod or headed north to reproduce.
However, human-caused threats like pollution and discarded fishing gear have been known to endanger whales like Migaloo, and there’s every chance he may have succumbed to man-made dangers.
Also, despite their enormous size, humpback whales aren’t always at the top of the food chain in the waters they inhabit.
The International Whaling Commission highlights the fact that many humpbacks bear ‘rake-like scars’ on their bodies, which indicate that they’ve been attacked by a killer whale and survived, although not all do.
Migaloo could be on his way north along the east coast of #Australia. A white #whale has been spotted already off Victoria. If this is him, we could see #Migaloo appear once again! If you see him please let us know. Pls respect his space on the water. Media q’s: @VanessaPirotta pic.twitter.com/6O5QLVKIc1— Migaloo the Whale (@Migaloo1) April 18, 2021
The International Whaling Commission went as far as to say that natural predators like killer whales can even influence humpbacks’ migration patterns, as they’ll try to avoid places where there are large killer whale populations.
Thankfully, the Canberra Times did also point out that Migaloo’s sighting history has always been sporadic, and seeing as he’s only in his mid 30s, the whale should have another 20 fun-loving years ahead of him.