An Australian father of two struck lucky with an unexpected whale sighting while out flying his drone off the New South Wales coastline. He later shared his incredible footage of a rare white humpback whale calf swimming alongside its mother, believed to be one of only five known white whales in the world.
Mark Zucconi, 53, captured the jaw-dropping footage during an outing to Macmasters Beach, New South Wales, on July 11, 2019. Mark, who hails from the nearby NSW town of Kincumber, spotted the whales via his drone from the safety of the shore and decided to track them as they swam side by side.
“The video shows the journey north of a humpback whale, her escort, and her white juvenile,” Mark told Caters News. “I captured the footage from the shore, 1.8 km away from the whales.”
“In the video,” Mark said, “you can see the white calf enjoying the calm waters off of Macmasters Beach, playfully displaying its breaching talents under the watchful eyes of its mom and guardian.”
While the unexpected whale sighting was gratifying in and of itself, spotting the white humpback whale calf swimming beside its mother, Mark said, “just made the day a little more special.” The father of two estimated that the calf was likely between 13 and 16 months old at the time of filming.
Mark claimed that his whale sighting became even more precious the moment he discovered how unusual white humpback whales really are.
“There are only four other known white whales in the world, making them extremely rare,” Mark said.
“It is a very humbling experience to get a bird’s eye view of these majestic creatures,” he said, adding, “I felt honored that they put on such a great display while I was there, and that I was able to travel even just a fraction of their journey with them.”
According to National Geographic, the white humpback whale first spotted in 1991 off the east coast of Australia was named “Migaloo,” the Aboriginal word for “white man.” The male humpback is believed to have been born in 1986. Migaloo’s hypo-pigmentation is most likely a result of his genes but could also be leucistic, meaning he lacks the ability to produce pigment in the skin.
Unlike true albinos, Migaloo is also believed to have colored eyes. The beloved white humpback whale even has his own Twitter account, run jointly by the White Whale Research Centre and Great Barrier Reef Legacy, so that fans can remain informed about Migaloo and the status of his marine environment.
National Geographic researchers maintain that there are only a handful of white whales in known existence but upward of 20,000 humpback whales that take part in an annual migration around Australia, making the white humpback whale calf spotted by Zucconi and his drone an extraordinary rarity.
The Australian humpback whale population was nearly decimated by commercial whaling, a practice that ended in 1963, but has since made a remarkable recovery.
As of 2020, humpback whales are listed as of “least concern” by the IUCN and can live up to approximately 50 years of age.