Saturday, November 17, 2012

Newsflash: A White Humpback Whale?!

Well, here's something refreshing. This blog rarely covers whales and dolphins, so when a friend showed me this, I had to show it to you all:

"Mariners who spend lots of time at sea are witness to all sorts of amazing sights, but very rarely does one get to witness the almost mythical white whale. Dan Fisher has seen and documented this animal. While crewing aboard the three-masted SV Antigua in August, in the waters of Norway's Svalbard Archipelago, Fisher made the sighting of what looks to be a pure white humpback whale from high on the mast. (For whatever reason, Fisher waited until recently to release his footage and share his story. These are his images, Wildlife Extra

The whale first appeared as a white hump on the horizon, and was swimming with other humpbacks.

"As I realized it was a white whale, I was amazed," Fisher told the Daily Mail. "I quickly climbed the mast to get a good vantage point and captured these pictures. Afterwards we were all talking and decided to dub him Willow the white whale."

News of the sighting began circulating on the Internet this week.

White whales are rare and the most famous among them, of course, is Moby Dick, a fictional sperm whale in the 1851 Herman Melville classic novel of the same name.

More recently, a white humpback known as Migaloo has been spotted sporadically off Queensland, Australia. A white humpback calf also has been seen off Queensland. According to Wildlife Extra there have been reports of white killer whales off Alaska and Russia (possibly the same animal), white right whale calves off South Australia and an albino dolphin off Louisiana.

The white humpback spotted by Fisher, who is Welsh, is either an albino or its coloration could be the result of a condition known as leucism, in which pigmentation cells fail to properly develop. Albinos are totally white and usually have red or pink eyes.

Fisher, 32, who for the past 10 years has worked as a maritime engineer, referred to the sighting as a "once-in-a-lifetime spot" and added: "I saw lots of humpbacks this year, but nothing as spectacular as this one.""
~ From

Just to clarify: there is a good chance that these white humpback whales are leucistic, not albino. There are several differences between the two, including eye color (albinos have pink eyes, sometimes blue) and vulnerability to UV rays. Similar result, but not the same thing. Don't call a whale albino unless you're looking it in the eye.

Either case of suddenly abundant white whales speaks to a potential problem: a shrinking gene pool. Whaling in the old days made huge dents in whale populations.  Modern-day pollution can't be good for them, either. When creatures as large as whales are vanishing, the ecosystem in general and the cetacean gene pool are both adversely affected. Could the rise in white humpback whales be due to a shortage of breeding partners?

Mind, white whales have been around for quite a while. The story Moby Dick detailed one man's constant pursuit of a white sperm whale; since it's conception, the term "white whale" has come to mean something elusive to the point of being irritating. Still, to find a real white whale is very rare indeed. Let's hope it stays that way, no matter how awesome these white whales look.

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