While an unseasonal sighting of a whale off the NSW south coast has excited locals, experts are concerned after noticing its unusual colouring.
Video shot on Sunday at Eden, near the Victorian border, shows the humpback has a large pink patch near its dorsal fin.
Analysing the footage, Jools Farrell, a rescuer with marine conservation group ORRCA, told Yahoo News Australia the pink colouring signifies an infestation of whale lice. “That’s not a good sign for any whale,” she said. “Its body condition doesn’t look good.”
While the whale was spotted in NSW waters earlier than normal, Ms Farrell said such sightings appear to be part of a trend.
Why the reason for the whale is unwell is hard to determine without a necropsy. One possibility is that it didn’t make it to Antarctica to feed, while it’s also possible the animal has ingested plastic.
Whale lice are not a true louse and are actually related to shrimp. The pink colour of the species that targets humpbacks is noticeable on their skin, large patches are an indication of poor health.
Will the pink whale survive?
After the footage was shared to social media, many locals marvelled at the rare sighting. “Wonderful, thanks for sharing with us,” one person wrote. “That’s awesome,” someone else said.
Others were concerned the whale could have become ill after being tangled in the Queensland government’s controversial shark nets that remained in place during the 2022 migration and entangled at least 14 whales. Other respondents worried that it could be a calf separated from its mother. “Poor little darling,” someone wrote.
The whale appears to be heading north at a reasonably slow speed of six knots, although its swimming action appears normal. Due to its size, it appears the animal is an independent subadult that would no longer require the care of its mother.
Whether the animal will survive remains unknown, but it’s not the worst case of whale lice Ms Farrell has seen. “I’ve seen some whales that are completely pink,” she said. “There might be something going on internally with it, or it could just be sick.”
Swimmers urged to stay away from sick whale
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) responded to the incident with a statement urging swimmers and watercraft users to stay at least 100 metres from the whale. It backed ORRCA's assessment that the whale is sick and injured, saying volunteers from the group are monitoring the situation at its request.
Sick and injured marine mammals can be reported to ORRCA on 02 9415 3333 or NPWS on 1300 0 PARKS.
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