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Search finds white whale

Townsville Bulletin

20th August 2003

MIGALOO, a rare white humpback whale,
was found enjoying the waters off Palm Island
yesterday afternoon.

Norm Land, of the QPWS
took this shot of Migaloo enjoying himself
off Palm Island yesterday.

Migaloo was spotted by a boat operator 7 nautical miles south-southeast of Palm Island just after lunch yesterday.

Late yesterday afternoon, State Environment Minister Dean Wells formally extended a special protection order which has declared the whale an animal of special interest.

An aerial sighting of Migaloo found it was swimming with another whale.

The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service sent a charter plane to confirm the sighting yesterday afternoon and by 4pm had a boat heading to the area to inspect the whale's health.

The search for the rare white whale was sparked by its collision with a trimaran off Magnetic Island on Saturday.

QPWS regional service director Clive Cook yesterday said two search flights were conducted on Monday and another on Tuesday.

Before the discovery, the QPWS was searching waters south of Townsville in the belief the whale was returning south.

There were fears the whale was seriously injured in the collision when the trimaran owner reported a centre keel had sheered off and may have been lodged in the whale's back.

Sea World marine sciences director Trevor Long yesterday confirmed he had been contacted by QPWS to determine whether Sea World would help assist if the whale was injured.

Mr Long said if the keel board proved to be a problem for the whale, affecting movement and health, it would have to be removed.

"But a lot of issues would need to be discussed," Mr Long said.

"We would be able to provide medical and restraint assistance."

Mr Long said Migaloo had become a "wonderful" icon for humpback whales.

"This animal has become a type of icon, which is a lovely thing," he said.

"It promotes empathy. He gives a lot of enjoyment for people when he comes up each year."

Mr Long said he had taken great interest in the case and would be keenly looking at photos of the mammal.

Magnetic Island's David Snell told how his trimaran Cirro was lifted from the water as a large white object surfaced from beneath the vessel.

Mr Snell had been sailing the $85,000 boat back to Magnetic Island from Cardwell after spending eight months working on it.

With a hole the size of a dinner plate ripped in the hull, the trimaran was able to limp back to Magnetic Island where Mr Snell put the boat ashore. He plans to repair the vessel.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Steve Bredhauer said yesterday the State Government was aware of Mr Snell's situation and would allow him as much time as needed to fix his vessel at Nelly Bay.

Migaloo is an elusive 17-year-old white whale, believed to be the only albino humpback in the world. Until this incident, it was last seen in Gold Coast waters in July.

The special interest declaration the Queensland Government placed on Migaloo includes special conditions to view it including that no person can drive a boat or jet ski any closer than 500m or fly an aircraft any closer than 2000ft without permission.