Saving Migaloo and his kin from Queensland shark nets

2023-04-25 09:34 AM by Envoy: Shark Cull–  5m read

Migaloo, the white humpback whale, is a creature of great mystery and fascination. He has captured the hearts and minds of people worldwide, who have been awed by his unique appearance and incredible journey up and down the east coast of Australia.

For those who are unfamiliar with this magnificent creature, Migaloo is a white humpback whale first spotted in 1991. It is believed he is one of only three or four white humpback whales in the world, and his presence on the east coast of Australia has become a source of great joy and wonder for locals and tourists alike.

But Migaloo is more than just a rare and beautiful creature. He symbolises humpback whales' intelligence, social complexity, and caring nature. These gentle giants of the sea are among the most intelligent and empathetic creatures on the planet, and they have a profound capacity for love and social bonding.

Humpback whales are highly social creatures that live in family groups called pods. These pods can consist of anywhere from two to 20 whales and often stay together for life. Humpbacks communicate with each other using a complex system of songs and vocalisations that are unique to each pod.

They are also highly intelligent creatures that exhibit remarkable problem-solving skills and can learn from their experiences. In addition to their intelligence, humpback whales are known for their caring and nurturing nature. Mother whales are highly protective of their calves and will go to great lengths to keep them safe. They also engage in various social behaviours, including rubbing against each other, breaching, and tail-slapping, which experts believe is a way of strengthening social bonds.

Migaloo has become something of a celebrity on the east coast of Australia. He even has his own website and according to the website Migaloo 'is the name the Australian Aboriginal community in Queensland use to describe a "White Fella"'. Researchers and whale watchers, who marvel at his unique appearance and intelligence and social complexity, have closely followed his annual migration up and down the coast.

But despite his fame and the attention he has garnered, Migaloo remains a creature of great mystery. We know little about his origins or life; there have been no confirmed sightings since 2019. This has led to concerns about his well-being and whether he is still alive.

The threats facing whales today are numerous and complex. From climate change and habitat loss to pollution and overfishing, these creatures face a range of challenges that could profoundly impact their survival. In addition, there are more direct threats posed by human activity, including whaling, fishing gear entanglement, and collisions with ships. In Queensland, though, the biggest danger to humpback whales is an unnecessary one: shark nets.

Shark nets are used along popular beaches of Australia's east coast and are intended to prevent surfers and swimmers from being bitten by sharks, though there is no evidence to prove that shark nets keep people safe. However, these nets also pose a significant danger to humpback whales during their annual migration. Particularly in Queensland where shark nets remain in the water all year round. Once entangled in the net, the whales struggle to escape and can become severely injured or die. Humpback whales are particularly vulnerable to entanglement because they migrate in large groups and travel close to shore. Additionally, humpbacks are known for their acrobatic behaviour, which can lead to accidental entanglement in the nets.

Even when a humpback whale is released alive from a shark net, there is still a significant risk to its survival. In many cases, the whale is still dragging equipment from the net, which can impede its movement and cause further injury. The consensus among experts is that when a humpback whale is released from a shark net, even if it is not dragging equipment, it will not be strong enough to complete its migration and will likely die. This is a significant concern because humpback whales eat little or nothing during the 10,000km migration and rely on their energy stores to sustain them for several months until they return to their feeding grounds in Antarctica. Therefore, any disruption to their migration can severely affect their survival.

Given the above threats, it is unsurprising that there is a such concern for Migaloo's safety. Could one of the many shark nets that have vanished from Queensland beaches since 2019 have taken Migaloo's life? When lost shark nets are not recovered, they become floating death traps that traverse the ocean for a long time, posing a continued threat to humpback whales and other animals.

Despite these concerns, there is still hope for Migaloo and other humpback whales that migrate along the east coast of Australia. Efforts are being made to protect these creatures and their habitats, including creating marine protected areas and implementing stricter regulations on fishing and shipping activities.

In addition, there is growing awareness and appreciation for the beauty and complexity of these creatures, which could lead to greater support for conservation efforts. The more people understand and care about humpback whales, the more likely they are to take action to protect them.

Migaloo symbolises the majesty and wonder of the natural world and reminds us of our responsibility to protect and preserve the incredible creatures that share our planet. His story is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of humpback whales, but it is also a call to action for all of us to do our part in safeguarding their future.

We must work together to ensure that these magnificent creatures continue to thrive and that future generations can experience the awe-inspiring beauty of creatures like Migaloo.

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