Herman Melville spent more than 600 pages on the hunt for a great white whale - but each year in Australia the search occurs with a motivation utterly opposite to Ahab's quest for revenge. Migaloo, Australia's modern Moby Dick, has achieved beloved status, and his sighting last week has been welcomed, particularly by the tourism industry.
Since the first siting for this year on Thursday, numerous whale watching cruises have set out to catch a glimpse, several with success.
Migaloo (white fella in the Mayi-Katuna language from north Queensland) was first sighted in 1991, aged 3-5. He is a humpback, rather than a sperm whale such as Melville's protagonist. He is also entirely white, unlike the fictional version. Although not the only white humpback in the world, Migaloo is much more inclined to venture into waters where humans may see him, making an annual migration during the Australian winter up the east coast. More than 12,000 humpbacks make the same migration, but many stay further out to sea where they are harder to spot.
Migaloo showing off near Port Macquarie, June 2014
Consequently Migaloo has attracted quite a following. His songs can be bought on itunes, a twitter account in his honor has been established and whale watching cruises promote the possibility of seeing him with gusto.
He was assumed to be an albino, but Migaloo's eyes are brown rather than red or white, casting doubt on this theory. However, a study by of Migaloo's DNA at the Australian Marine Mammal Center found a cytosine deletion truncated his tyrosinase, the protein that produces melanin, leading to true albinism.