PHOTOS: A rare white whale, believed to be Migaloo, has been spotted early in the whale season

A rare white whale spotted off NZ is thought to be Migaloo. Image: NZ Department of Conservation

Migaloo, a humpback whale named for the Aboriginal word meaning white fella, is believed to have been spotted off New Zealand early in the whale spotting season.

The rare white whale was first reported off eastern Australia in 1991 and has been seen almost every year since, on a migratory path from the Antarctic to breeding waters in the Great Barrier Reef.

The humpback whale was seen with another whale during the Cook Strait Whale Survey in its 12th annual four-week count of whales passing through the strait.

Survey leader Nadine Bott says distinctive features, including the shape of the dorsal fin, indicate the whale is Migaloo.

White whale. Image: NZ Department of Conservation.

Migaloo has his own website and Facebook page where he has more than 10,000 followers.

A skin sample for DNA analysis was taken on July 5 with a biopsy dart and will be compared with Migaloo’s DNA. This will take at least one month.

White humpbacks are extremely rare with only four reported in the world.

Migaloo’s name was used in the 2007-08 campaign in the Antarctic by the conservation group Sea Shepherd against Japan’s so-called scientific whaling program which that year proposed to harpoon humpback whales as well as minke whales.

This year’s Cook Strait whale survey counted 137 humpback whales, the highest tally in its 12 years.

The annual New Zealand Department of Conservation survey, which ended last weekend, also broke its record for the highest number of humpbacks seen in a day with 27 spotted on Sunday, June 21.

Here’s footage from the survey:

The highest number of humpbacks previously recorded in the survey was 106 in 2012 with the second highest, 92, last year. The previous highest daily tally was 21 humpbacks in 2012.

The research aims to estimate the size of the New Zealand humpback whale population and has been assessing humpback whale recovery since commercial whaling stopped in 1964.

The rate of recovery is not yet as high as that in Australia where the humpbacks are increasing at 11% a year.

The eastern Australian humpbacks number about 20,000. The 2015 survey from Pt Lookout, North Stradbroke Island, in Queensland has so far counted 2454 humpbacks for the season.

Humpbacks off Western Australia are increasing about 10% a year and currently number about 30,000.

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