Just one month ago, an albino bottlenose dolphin was captured on video by Danielle Carter, a member of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), while she visited some of the more empty shores in the area. The sighting, while rare, is not the first of its kind. According to several distinguished researchers, there are possibly 20 species of dolphins and whales which possess the recessive gene. Veterinary pathologist Greg Bossart commented on just why these creatures may be so rare, saying that albinism may not be an adaptive trait in a wild animal as it increases the chances of them becoming prey.
Also disadvantaging these rare creatures, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is that albinism is synonymous with impaired vision, which can hurt the survival rate of any species. Mr. Bossart said that due to the low numbers of the animals on which research can be conducted, the knowledge regarding the health of albino animals is little to unknown. Other things that remain inconclusive about these beautiful animals are how the gene transfers, what causes the specific mutation, and exactly how, if at all, the gene could be traced back to a specific source.
With sightings of albino dolphins limited to only 15 in the past half-century, human interference seems to be an unlikely cause of harm, but the FWC has stepped forward to make sure that it does not happen at all. Brandon Basino, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute reported to Florida Today and said “We thought [the video] was worth sharing due to their rarity, but we are not able to give out an exact location for the sake of the animal’s safety,” and then added, “We did not ask for a specific location for this very reason.” So, for the time being, the albino dolphin can visit all of the Florida shores in peace.
However, there are many things, just like impaired vision, that are known about albinism. Starting in 1962, there have been only 15 sightings of albino dolphins. But, albinism in other marine mammals like whales and porpoises has been recorded in a total of 20 separate species. Even with those results, however, spotting a marine mammal with the traits of albinism in the wild is still extremely rare.
Albinism occurs when there is an almost untraceable amount of pigment in the skin, eyes and hair. This specific genetic mutation affects a pigment called melanin, which is what gives skin, eyes and hair their individual colors. Albinism does not just affect marine life, but humans, too. Basically, any animal is susceptible to albinism because every living organism contains the pigment melanin. The goods news is that aside from mild cases of impaired or blurry vision, there are no other known side effects caused by albinism, which may be due to a lack of research on the subject.
With sharp minds and eyes on the case, such as those of Carter and the rest of FWC and Mr. Bossart, studies can be conducted safely and responsibly for both parties involved. By keeping the location secret and educated professionals on standby, more information on this hereditary mutation may soon come to light. In the meantime, the albino bottlenose can play and thrive with his dolphin brethren as he goes and revisits the various shores around Florida.
By Matthew Austin Bowers