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White Whale Caught on Video—How'd it Get That Way?

Thought to be the famous whale Migaloo, the sighting off Australia calls to mind Moby Dick.

Rare White Whale Spotted Near Australia

One of the world's most famous and beloved wild whales has been spotted off the east coast of Australia once again.

A white whale, thought to be the famous individual known as Migaloo, was filmed Thursday off Sydney as he made his way south towards Antarctica.

The video was captured by Whale Watching Sydney photographer Jonas Liebschner, who had been waiting for Migaloo all week.

Named after the Aboriginal word for "white man," Migaloo is one of a small handful of white whales known in the world. A male humpback, Migaloo is thought to have been born in 1986. (See why these giraffes are completely white.)

According to the White Whale Research Centre, his hypo-pigmentation is likely a result of his genes, but scientists aren't sure if he is a true albino and completely lacks the ability to produce pigments. It's also possible that Migaloo is leucistic: He may lack the ability to produce much pigment, but unlike albinos, he may have colored eyes.

White whales are uncommon among humpacks and whales in general, though they have been occasionally spotted among fin, blue, and even sperm whales, the species lionized in Moby Dick.

At least three white humpback whales including Migaloo have been seen off Australia in recent years. One has been dubbed "Migaloo Junior" or the "son of Migaloo"—although no one knows whether this smaller whale is actually related to Migaloo. A third white humpback with black spots on its tail has also been spotted. (Also see "Pictures: Special Albinos and Unusually White Animals.")

A well-publicized sighting of a white whale off Australia in 2015 may have been of Migaloo Junior, since the animal appeared a bit smaller than the older Migaloo and didn't seem to bear Migaloo's distinctive back scars, which he received from a boat collision in 2003.

About 20,000 humpback whales including Migaloo are thought to annually migrate around Australia, which helps optimize feeding and mating opportunities. The population has recovered considerably from the era of commercial whaling; at one point, only around a hundred individuals remained.

Since then, the animals have enjoyed strict legal protections, and Migaloo himself is protected by an additional law that requires all boaters to stay at least 500 meters away from him. In contrast, Australian boaters can go within 100 meters of other whales, a buffer that increases to 300 meters if a calf is present.

Among the larger whales, humpbacks can reach a length of around 60 feet and weigh up to 40 tons, with the females often being a bit bigger than the males. Known for their enchanting songs and playful behavior, the whales are listed as least concern by the IUCN. They can live up to around 50 years.