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Migaloo searching for a mate as he heads south


Zuleika Henderson
30 September 2009
Migaloo’s behaviour as he was spotted off the coast of Byron Bay this week suggests he may be looking for a female to mate with, said Peta Beeman, a researcher from the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre.

Ms Beeman, who is conducting research on whale migration behaviour, was one of the lucky few to spot the rare white humpback whale when he appeared with a group of other humpback whales about a kilometre from the shore at Tyagarah near Byron Bay on Monday.

“Migaloo appeared with a group of whales who were pushing and jostling each other, which is competitive behaviour typically associated with humpback whale mating,” said Ms Beeman.

“It is possible a female was present within the group and he was competing with the other males for her attention.

“Migaloo is clearly interested in mating, which suggests that although he has a different appearance, he seems to travel and behave in the same way as other adult humpback males would do.”

Ms Beeman is conducting a humpback whale identification research project which aims to better understand humpback whale migration timing, travel speed and movement patterns. The project, which is being undertaken with the support of Whale Watching Byron Bay, is collecting photos of humpback whales from tourists and tour operators from the Gold Coast, Queensland to southern NSW for scientific analysis. The photos will be used to create a fluke catalogue that will significantly expand the range of individually identified humpback whales along the Australian east coast.

In the meantime Professor Peter Harrison, director of the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre urged people to remember the special exclusion zone that is enforced to protect this unique white whale.

“Migaloo is a very special animal and he needs at least 500 metres clear water around him to ensure he is not significantly disturbed by human activities on his southern migration back to Antarctica,” said Professor Harrison.

“At this time of year, humpback whales are heading south to the feeding grounds of Antarctica on a very limited energy budget, and any ongoing interference or stress could have a serious impact on their ability to survive the long migration back to Antarctica.”

Photo: Migaloo (high resolution image available on request)