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Researchers were pleasantly surprised to spot a rare white humpback whale in Cook Strait, New Zealand recently.

See rare white humpback whale spotted in New Zealand

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Saturday, July 11, 2015, 4:11 PM - Researchers were pleasantly surprised to spot a rare white humpback whale in Cook Strait, New Zealand.

The whale is thought to be Migaloo, a white humpback usually seen off the coast of eastern Australia. Migaloo is one of four known white humpback whales in the world.

"It's a once in a lifetime thing, that's for sure," Nadine Bott, a project leader for the New Zealand Department of Conservation told reporters.

Courtesy: DOC

The white whale was spotted with another black humpback during the Cook Strait Whale Survey. The survey is in its last week of the annual four-week count of whales that pass through the area. 

"This is so unique. I have never seen anything like this in New Zealand," said marine mammal scientist Carlos Olavarria in a Department of Conservation media release.

Distinctive features on the whale were "strongly" similar to those of Migaloo including, the dorsal fin's shape and spiny protuberances behind the fin, survey leader Nadine Bott highlighted. 

Courtesy: DOC

Migaloo is Aboriginal for "white fella." The whale was first spotted near eastern Australia in 1991. This was the first time he was found in New Zealand. A skin sample was taken with a biopsy dart for DNA analysis to see whether the whale was indeed Migaloo. The test will also determine if the whale is albino or the whiteness is due to colour variation.

"Migaloo is the most famous and another white humpback whale was spotted in Norway this year. Migaloo is through to have fathered two white calves which have been making appearances along Australia's eastern coast," Bott said in the release.

One calve was named MJ, short for Migaloo junior.

The whale survey coincides with the annual migration of humpbacks from colder Antarctic waters to warmer Pacific water breeding grounds. The survey aims to assess humpback whale recovery and estimate the size of humpback populations, since commercial whaling ended in 1964.

Thus far, the team has counted 122 humpback whales surpassing its previous count of 106 in 2012.

Source: Department of Conservation

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