Rare White Humpback Whale Spotted Off Australia's Gold Coast

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The white humpback whale, spotted off Australia's Gold Coast, is likely "Migaloo Junior," one of only three known light-colored humpbacks. Channel Nine / Youtube

A huge white humpback whale was spotted on Monday by multiple whale-watching boats off Australia's Gold Coast. It's extremely rare to see one of these animals; only three have been identified to date.

At first, the find prompted speculation that it might be an iconic white humpback named Migaloo. This beast was first spotted in 1991, and until recently was the only known albino humpback, among a population of about 23,000 whales (of all species) that pass by the Gold Coast on their way from Antarctica to warmer waters to the north, as CBC News reports.

It seems, however, that this is another whale—it appears to be slightly too small and too white to be Migaloo, several experts told Australia's AP service. They believe that the whale spotted today is the animal known by scientists as "Migaloo Junior," says White Whale Research Centre founder Oskar Peterson. This whale was first seen in 2011, and may or may not be Migaloo's calf. There is one more known white humpback, but that one has identifying spots on its tail.

VIDEO: Whale experts are looking closely to decide whether this is @Migaloo1 #7News #Migaloohttps://t.co/55q3pGAc3L

— 7NEWS Brisbane (@7NewsBrisbane) August 10, 2015

Albinism is found in a wide variety of animals, and it is more common in reptiles, fish and birds than in mammals. A 2011 study found that Migaloo lacks a gene necessary for making an enzyme involved in the production of melanin, one of the primary dark pigments found in mammalian skin. This is only one of many types of genetic abnormalities that can cause albinism. This particular mutation is heritable, so it's possible Migaloo could pass on this mutation to his offspring.