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Reef Report for Wednesday, August 1, 2007

White Whale Spotted on the Great Barrier Reef
Migaloo the Humpback Whale Makes Big Impact

The Great Barrier Reef is unique in many ways, and one is that it is the winter home to the only known white whale in existence.

The whale, a 20-year-old Humpback whale nicknamed “Migaloo”, which means white fellow in a local aboriginal language, spends his summers feeding in Antarctica, then most years migrates northward to the winter calving and mating grounds on the northern Great Barrier Reef.

Migaloo was just spotted off Port Douglas this past week, the first sighting of this one-of-a-kind whale since his migration southward to Antarctica last year.

Just the spotting of this unique whale is big news in Cairns. © Queensland Environmental Protection Agency The Cairns Post, our local paper, ran a cover story on the sighting, which include both a front page picture and an inside fold out poster.

This isn’t just the only area where this unique whale has an impact, as witnessed by the following stories that also featured Migaloo these past few months:

In June Migaloo was the poster boy of an a set of protests against a military training exercise near Shoalwater Bay, located in the central region of the Great Barrier Reef. These exercises were jointly conducted by the US and Australian military forces. Protesters were concerned that the high intensity sonar that is now a feature of such activities would harm whale populations, including Migaloo. There does seem to be good evidence linking marine mammal deaths with such sonar, and given the controversy it seems strange that the exercises would be planned along a known whale migration route at a time when whales are around.

Also this year, there was a controversy when a local man successfully trademarked the word “migaloo”. While some news stories pictured the owner of the trademark as a man who wanted to use the trademark as a way of raising money to save whales, others felt it a commercial intrusion on nature and aboriginal culture.

Miglaoo also has made it onto YouTube., which means he’s got celebrity status that rivals Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. We have yet to check on Facebook or MySpace for Migaloo’s page, but it’s certain that if he’s got a page, he’s got a large number of friends!

Lastly, when the Japanese resume their annual fall/winter scientific whale hunt, they can expect the many fans and protectors of Migaloo to be protesting the hunt. While the Japanese proposal to resume commercial whaling was knocked back, for the first time in many years the controversial scientific hunt will include the taking of 50 Humpback whales, so Migaloo will be at risk when he visits Antarctic waters this spring and summer.

First sighting of Migaloo this year, from The Cairns Post

First sighting of Migaloo this year, from News.com.au

Migaloo motivates protests against the Military

Humpback whale migration, from the University of Queensland

Migaloo makes YouTube.

More about Migaloo trademark controversy.

More about 2007-20088 Japanese whaling plans.

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as  many other local sources in the dive community.

Index of all reef reports.

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