There are a lot of whales in the world, right? From the humpbacks, sperm whales, blue whales, bowhead whales, and many more! But did you know that there is one type of whale that can be as rare as they come? If you haven't heard about this, then lucky for you, we're going to dive down deeper to get to know them better!
Albinism is a rare phenomenon wherein a certain type of specie stand out from the rest because of its inexplicable whiteness. Like other land mammals, whales can also exhibit the same thing. Albino land animals such as Albino Rhinos are renowned worldwide because of their rarity. While they can be as rare as they can be, are albinos a rarity? Or has it become more common nowadays? Let's find out!
A Rare Occurrence of Albinism in Albino Whales
As we mentioned a while ago, albinism is a rare occurrence wherein a type of specie becomes unusually white. So, what is albinism? Albinism happens when a gene called tyrosinase genetically mutates. It affects the species' ability to produce melanin – an integral part of the body that produces pigment affecting the colour.
When a tyrosinase mutates, all of the animal's body parts turn white, from its body, hair, ears, feet, and so on. Their eyes are either red or pink because of the visibility of the blood vessels circulating within the eye.
Although it can happen to animals, there are only a few ones that are recorded to exhibit albinism. It has been studied that there have been around seven species of pinnipeds and 21 species of cetaceans. This includes humpback whales, pilot whales, and pacific white-sided dolphins, to name a few.
Albino sightings are a rare occurrence. Whales are solitary creatures and migrate a lot throughout the season. One important factor why albinism is rare among species is because the gene affecting the production of melanin is a recessive gene – which means it can only be passed down to its offspring if the animal is homozygous.
In simpler terms, it can't be passed down because the dominant trait will often be passed down. In addition, species or individuals possessing two mutated traits are very rare. As a result, whales can carry albinism traits without being able to develop or exhibit them over their lifespan.
Meet Migaloo: The Albino Humpback Whale
If we're talking about the most famous albino whale in the world, it will likely be Migaloo. This whale is a male albino humpback whale roaming the ocean worldwide. It is estimated that Migaloo's age is over 30 since his spotting in 1991.
He was first seen in Byron Bay and can be seen frolicking the waters of Australia during the migration period. Migaloo was also considered the purest male humpback whale in the world. He was named 'Migaloo' by the elders living in Hervey Bay, which means 'White Fella'.
Fascinating Facts about Migaloo
There are important things to learn about this famous albino humpback whale. Let's learn more about him!
Migaloo Is Protected
All whales are protected under Australian Law; however, it is a different case when talking about albino whales. In Australia, to protect these albino creatures, albino humpback whales that are almost 90% white belong to the 'special management marine mammals. It states that no shipping vessel or boat should come near these whales within 500 meters or aircraft be as close as 610 meters to any pure albino whales.
What makes them a more protected creature is because of their rarity. As a result, people and tourists alike tend to be more anxious and act irresponsibly to seeing them, leading to these animals being stressed out.
Migaloo Is a Pure Albino
There is a lot of skepticism about Migaloo's albinism because he exhibits a brown eye. As we've mentioned earlier, albino species possess pink or reddish eyes because there's no colouration in the iris, which leaves a more pinkish or reddish hue because of the blood circulation in the eyes.
However, it was not until 2011 wherein the Australian Marine Mammal Centre studied Migaloo's DNA and confirmed that he was a pure albino because of the genetic variation possessed by this marine creature. As a result, while he may not exhibit the typical albino eyes, he is considered a true albino and is one of the rarest of its kind.
Migaloo Isn't the Only One
While Albino whales are extremely rare, Migaloo isn't alone in this journey. He also has a few albino humpback whale friends named Willow, Migaloo Jr, and Bahloo. Still, Migaloo was the first-ever albino humpback whale that was spotted among these four.
You Can Spot Them Easily
These albino humpback whales are commonly found on Australia's east coast and travel to Antarctica to feed while congregating with other species of whales. They return to Australia's warm tropical waters near the Great Barrier Reef to breed from June to October.
So, if you want a high success rate in sighting this extremely rare albino, your best bet is to travel along the eastern coast of Australia. Just be sure not to get extremely close to them as these are highly protected creatures under Australian Law.
Not Just Humpbacks
Albinism isn't for the humpbacks alone. And there are also certain marine species exhibiting albinism, sightings of albino orcas, bottlenose dolphins, and right whales over the years. If you happen to sight one, don't get too close to them or take pictures with flashes on, they are extremely sensitive to light, so be sure to turn it off while taking snaps for memories.
Wrapping Things Up
Albino whales are as rare as they can be. While these creatures are heavily protected by Australian Law, they can't be safeguarded all the time. People should learn to value their presence and not act irresponsibly. We must act accordingly within the vicinity of these gentle creatures and help maintain their population on the rise.
Hopefully, this you’ve learned well enough from this article and understand more about Albino Whales. What we can do is to take care of the ocean in our own little ways. That way, we’re not only taking good care of Albino Whales, but the other creatures as well.
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