Willow, the All-White Humpback Whale Found Off of Norway

all white humpback whale
Willow the White Humpback Whale found off of Norway (photo by Dan Fisher)

While it is nice to get some attention for being an all-white humpback whale, I wanted to clear a few things up. First of all, I am not Moby Dick! Moby Dick was a sperm whale, and a fictional one at that, created from the imagination of author Herman Melville. The only thing I have in common with sperm whales is that we are both whales.
Whales are mammals (not fish), and as such, we have the following 5 characteristics:

1. Breathe air
2. Give birth to live young
3. Young drink milk from mom
4. Have hair (yes we whales have hair, but the hairs are really small)
5. Are warm-blooded

Sperm whales are toothed whales that hunt large prey, while I am a baleen whale that “hunts” very small prey called plankton. Other toothed whales include orcas (killer whales), and dolphins (all dolphins are whales, but not all whales are dolphins!). Other baleen whales include the blue whale (the largest animal to ever live on planet earth), and the minke whale.

While white humpback whales such as myself are rare, there is one off of Australia named Migaloo, who is quite famous. He has been seen by humans off and on for two decades. He even has a lesser seen pal named Bahloo who is all-white, except for some black spots on his head and tail. I will never meet those two as we live in completely different oceans.

Like Bahloo, I have black on the undersides of my fluke (tail). That means that I am not an albino, but rather hypo-pigmented or possibly leucistic. True albinos are completely white, and have pink or red eyes.

If you are ever so lucky to spot me, I hope you will follow the guidelines the Australian government has made for Migaloo so he does not become harassed: vessels must stay at least 500 meters away, and airplanes can fly no lower than 2000 feet. The fine for harassment of Migaloo is $16,500.

UPDATE: There have been reports of an all white humpback whale calf seen off of Queensland, Australia. Wildlife Extra reports that white killer whales (orcas) have been spotted off of Alaska and Russia (it could be the same animal), white right whale calves have been spotted off of Southern Australia, and an albino dolphin has been spotted off of Louisiana, USA. An albino Risso’s dolphin was seen off of Monterey, California June 2017.

Meet Migaloo, the All-White Humpback Whale of Australia

The white (not albino) humpack whale of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia
Migaloo, the all-white humpback whale

Hi, my name is Migaloo. I am the famous all-white humpback whale that lives off the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. My name is an aboriginal term meaning “white fellow.” I have been called an albino, but what I really am is “hypo-pigmented.” That means that I have low (hypo) levels of pigments. True albinos have genetic mutations that cause melanin to be produced in very low quantities, or not at all, and have pink or red eyes. Melanin is what causes human skin to tan. My buddy, Bahloo is also all-white, but he has black spots on his head and tail. That’s one reason why humans have chosen to call me “all-white” instead of albino.

Those terms don’t matter to me as I’m just like any other humpback whale! I still have to migrate to the Antarctic in the summer to feast on krill, and then make my way back to Eastern Australia. There we mate, and if female, give birth. Females’ calves are 14 foot (4.3m) long and weigh 2.5 tons (2.3 tonnes) at birth! No wonder their pregnancies last up to a year! They want to give birth in warm tropical waters, and they mate every year. That is why we go to the trouble of migrating every year! Otherwise with my thick layer of blubber, I could stand being in the frigid Antarctic waters all year long.

If you should ever be so lucky as to spot me, please e-mail my human friends at the Pacific Whale Foundation, migaloowhale.org or The White Whale Research Centre in Australia. Also, I hope you are with a responsible whale watching boat or airplane operator, as the Australian government has specific guidelines to prevent humans from harassing me (thank you!): vessels must stay at least 500 meters away, airplanes can fly no lower than 2000 feet near me, and the fine for harassment is $16,500. It’s okay if I approach you though!

UPDATE: In November of 2012, an all-white humpback whale named Willow was photographed off of Norway. There have been reports of an all white humpback whale calf seen off of Queensland, Australia. Wildlife Extra reports that white killer whales (orcas) have been spotted off of Alaska and Russia (it could be the same animal), white right whale calves have been spotted off of of Southern Australia, and a pink albino dolphin has been spotted in a lake in Louisiana, USA. In June 2017 an albino Risso’s dolphin was seen off of Monterey, California USA.