Albany’s Moby Dick discovery delights

By Charlotte Wooldridge | posted on September 11, 2020

NEW life has delighted whale watchers across Albany, after two newborn white southern right whales were spotted among the waves this week.

The rare colour of the animals, known as a grey morph, made it easy for punters and researchers to discover the new calves.

One calf was sighted off the coast of Cheynes Beach, with the other swimming closer to Albany in King George Sound.

South Coast Cetaceans Coordinator Kirsty Alexander said the rare colouring was only found in approximately five per cent of southern right whales.

“Most of our southern right whales are primarily black but have white patches on their bellies that don’t change through their life,” she said.

“But there is an alternative pigmentation, and the lighter coloured southern rights are usually called grey morphs.

“It’s basically a distinctive phenotype which is just a fancy word for the visible traits from your genetic make-up, and that particular phenotype is unique to southern rights.

“It results in newborns that appear mostly white and they’ve always got these splatterings of black ovals across their back and down their sides.”

Southern right whales remain one of the most endangered of Albany’s visiting whales, with only 3,500 of the mammals currently living off the Australian coast.

Despite their distinctive colour, Ms Alexander said the stunning white doesn’t appear to impact the calves’ survival rate.

Ms Alexander said locals were essential to the continued tracking and conservation efforts of the whales around Albany.

“The community has a massive part to play in this, whether that’s a whale watch operator or someone who lives near the beach,” she said.

“Whales are pretty hard to study when they don’t stay in one place. They move between beaches.

“Having community feedback means we know a little bit more about where they move and what kind of areas are important to them.

“A lot of this kind of information is not a scientist out there discovering everything, it’s a scientist benefitting a lot from the community being so keen to help tracking these animals and making sure they’re okay for the future.”