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New Moby Dick? Boat crasher a rare white whale

By Richard Stenger

Migaloo, right, swims alongside a normal humpback whale in this 1992 photo.
Migaloo, right, swims alongside a normal humpback whale in this 1992 photo.

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(CNN) -- A 10-ton whale that leaped into a yacht near Australia seems to have survived the impact without major injury, authorities said, but a rare white whale faces a new threat, human stalkers.

The 14-meter-long cetacean, known as Migaloo, is thought to be the only known albino humpback whale.

Days after it nearly sunk a 40-foot boat off eastern Australia, the whale was spotted swimming hundreds of miles to the north, sporting only a few dorsal fin lacerations, a Queensland environmental representative said Friday.

"Observations of Migaloo since the boat strike ... showed that Migaloo is behaving relatively normally for a humpback," said Jo Clark of the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency.

"The observations of the injury directly on the animal and the photos show that the injury from the boat keel is limited."

Since it's mating season, normal behavior for Migaloo, a male, means cruising for love. He is in a coastal area in the Great Barrier Reef, near the city of Townsville, tagging along with a female and her young calf, Clark said.

Environmental Issues

As humpback mothers sometimes ovulate soon after giving birth, potential suitors often follow them around for a chance to breed, according to Paul Forestell, a vice president of the Pacific Whale Foundation in Hawaii and marine biology professor at Southampton College, Long Island University, in New York.

Forestell, who began monitoring Migaloo soon after the whale was first spotted in 1991, helped coin the name, which is Aborigine for "white fella."

Over the years, Forestell has witnessed a disturbing trend. Migaloo has become an inadvertent celebrity, followed during seasonal migrations along the eastern coast by more and more eco-paparazzi.

Some enthusiasts have boated dangerously close to Migaloo. A scuba diver even landed on the whale and shot video as the leviathan dove. Then on August 16, it collided with a trimaran in Hervey Bay.

1992 image of Migaloo's dorsal fin
1992 image of Migaloo's dorsal fin

The Queensland government has taken steps to protect Migaloo and other humpbacks, which are a threatened species. Without written permission, boats and jet skies must remain at least 1,600 feet away, aircraft at least 2,000 feet.

Forestell said he worries that such protective laws are hard to enforce and that growing hordes of whale watchers will tax the whale, which may already have serious health problems.

As an albino, Migaloo has little protection from the sun's ultraviolet rays, he said. Photos suggest the whale might have skin cysts and other infections, possibly the result of solar radiation.

"It needs our protection, not our attention. We don't need to turn whales into rock stars," Forestell said. "If we want to take care of them, we should leave them alone and stop loving them to death."

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