WA’s new white whale calf on the way south

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Tom ZaunmayrGeraldton Guardian
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VideoGuests onboard Ningaloo Discovery had a lucky encounter with an albino whale first spotted near Dampier in early September

Muru the white whale calf’s journey down the WA coast is set to generate plenty of interest from authorities and interested onlookers hoping to get a glimpse of the incredibly rare gentle giant.

The juvenile humpback was first spotted off Dampier a fortnight ago with its mother and a few male escorts.

Nearly two weeks later, guests aboard Ningaloo Discovery saw it up close when it was spotted heading south on the Ningaloo Coast on September 23.

Ningaloo Discovery owner Matt Oakley said spotting Muru was like finding a needle in a haystack.

“It was about two miles off the back of the reef, a bit further out than where we would normally try to swim with them,” he said.

“The fact we are up around 40,000 (whale numbers) , it is an inevitability that we will see some of these genetic abnormalities.”

Mr Oakley said he hoped the whale returned next season when it would be big enough to swim with. Murdoch University aquatic megafauna research unit research fellow Joshua Smith said if genetically confirmed as albino, Muru would become one of only four humpback whales known to have the mutation worldwide.

“Typically a mother and father both need it but because it is recessive, it can skip generations,” he said.

“You can have light-coloured animals which appear almost white but potentially lack that genetic mutation that brings on albinism.”

Karratha resident Brady Stump spotted the white whale while out on a fishing trip in the Dampier Archipelago on September 12.

Mr Stump nicknamed the whale Muru, short for Murujuga, the Aboriginal name of the nearby Burrup Peninsula. A Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions spokeswoman said Muru could spend some time on the Ningaloo Coast before migrating south.

“The DBCA reminds people (to) stay a safe distance of at least 100m from whales as getting too close puts their safety and the safety of the animals at risk,” she said.

Mr Smith said Muru faced an uphill battle for survival, with discolouration leaving it at risk of increased predation.

“At night time in the dark it does not have a chance to blend in, it is like a neon beacon really,” he said.

“What is happening (in Argentina) is significant numbers of birds are congregating where the animals are at rest. That does have a significant impact on the body of these animals. “Most of them don’t reach sexual maturity but we can see with (albino whale) Migaloo there is a chance.”

Mr Smith said sightings of rarer abnormalities were indicative of a healthy population.

The peak period for the southern migration past Perth is October, though mothers with calves tend to move more slowly.

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