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A NORTH Queensland boatie may have collided with a rare albino humpback whale while sailing his newly refurbished trimaran from Cardwell to Magnetic Island.

An astonished David Snell yesterday told how a 12m white shape emerged from the ocean about 4m in front of his vessel Cirro on Saturday.

In a split second the whale had lifted the $85,000 trimaran from the water, smashing a hole the size of a dinner plate in the hull and ripping off the centre keel, which became lodged just below the whale's hump.

Mr Snell had to fight for more than four hours to keep Cirro afloat and guide it safely on to the beach at Nelly Bay.

Yesterday afternoon the Environment Protection Agency and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service chartered a small aircraft to scour the ocean for the whale in a bid to assess the whale's injuries.

Sea World marine sciences director Trevor Long, who has been dubbed the Prince of Whales for his experience with humpbacks off the Gold Coast, said he doubted the whale would be seriously hurt because of the type of vessel and speed involved in the collision.

The real question on everyone's lips, though, was whether the creature was the elusive great white whale known as Migaloo -- an Aboriginal word for "white fella".

Mr Long said scientists knew Migaloo was making his way up the coast but did not know his exact location.

"Eighty per cent of humpbacks have a lot of white on them. Whether this was the pure one or not . . ." Mr Long said.

"They (whales) are very inquisitive -- some even scratch their backs on the underside of boats.

"It is not a common occurrence (for a whale to surface under a vessel) but it certainly is not unheard of."

Mr Snell, who has 20 years' experience sailing the North Queensland coastline, was 18.5 nautical miles northeast of Magnetic Island's Horseshoe Bay when the collision occurred.

He had been admiring his newly painted and fitted-out vessel.

"I was so happy thinking how beautiful she was and how well she handled," Mr Snell said.

"I was in harmony with it all. That morning, before I left Northeast Bay, I did hope I would see a whale. This was just a really weird phenomenon.

"I had no motor running. I have no idea why it did it."

Mr Snell said he saw something white beneath the water but thought it was a sunken shipping container.

He said it took him a while to realise the object was rising, that it was a whale and he did not have time to avoid a collision.

After hitting what felt like a "brick wall", Mr Snell said he started taking on water almost immediately.

He made a mayday call at 8.30am Saturday, which was picked up by a vessel off Rattlesnake Island and relayed to the Coastguard, and began to pump out the water gushing into the boat.

By 10am other vessels had arrived to assist Mr Snell and with the aid of the Coastguard, Cirro was gently steered to Nelly Bay.

While the damage is repairable, Mr Snell said it will put him thousands of dollars out of pocket as the vessel was not insured.

He joined the QPWS in warning boaties to take care and be watchful when out on the water.

Humpback whales are on their annual migration up the coast for breeding.


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