PETER FROST goes hunting for the great white Whale.
A year or so ago Ann and I spent a big chunk of our summer in Australia driving down the Queensland coast in a motor-home and watching the whales from the many headlands and beaches.
We visited the old Whaling station ports of Ballina and Byron Bay where in the 1950’s and 1960’s the Aussie Whaling fleets of wartime plywood built Fairmile Motor Torpedo Boats harvested thousands of whales. The whale oil was almost entirely used for the British margarine trade.
The Australian whaling fleet also ventured into Antarctic waters as competitors to the vast Scottish Whaling Fleet of Leith (Scotland) based company Christian Salvesen – whose trucks are still to be seen on British motorways.
The company built several whaling stations in the Southern Oceans; several along the Antarctic Peninsular and four on the island of South Georgia. The largest of these was Leith Harbour named for the company’s home port in Scotland.
British Whaling finished in 1963/4, just half a century ago and slowly whale populations are recovering from the mass slaughter.
All humpbacks are rare creatures but one 28 year old humpback may be one of the rarest or creatures in the oceans of the world.
He is Migaloo a pure white whale. His aborigine name translates as White fella and the amazing creature has only been spotted very occasionally.
Recent sighting down the Queensland coast and around Sydney have enabled whale scientists to discover a lot more about Migaloo.
For some years it was believed the whale’s brown eyes pointed to the fact that he was not a true albino, rather he had a glandular problem that meant the normal whale colour pigment was not being distributed in his body.
Now we think he is in fact a true albino one of the few documented albino humpbacks in the world.
Migaloo watchers however are worried about the health of this amazingly rare animal. They have observed yellow and red discolouration patches on his skin.
These need further study to see if they are a sign of disease or skin cancer.
As an albino, Migaloo will be more susceptible to UV damage in the bright Australian sunshine than darker humpbacks.
Humpback whales are known to bump into each other, play roughly or sometimes if they’re trying to jostle for position next to a female they will ram each other. It may be this behaviour that has caused Migaloo’s skin lesions.
Meanwhile Migaloo is being protected. Boats and jetskis are not allowed within 500 metres of Migaloo. Aircraft are not allowed any closer than 2000 feet.
Britain and Australia both stopped the bloody slaughter of whales half a century ago. But still today Japan hunts the magnificent creatures in the southern oceans, despite world opinion and legal rulings.
If Migaloo ever finds himself in the sights of a Japanese harpoon gun, that will be the end of one of the rarest of all earth’s creatures. Let’s hope it never happens but that won’t stop the Japanese killing many normal coloured whales in their hunt for bloody profits.