First Report on Sightings of a White Blue Whale


We report on an anomalously pigmented white blue whale that was seen 15 times on 9 days over a 4-year period. Albinism or pseudo-albinism is uncommon but does occur widely in land mammals as well as marine mammals. Anomalously white individuals have been described for 20 species of cetaceans including the closely related fin whale ( Balaenoptera physalus ) and sei whale ( B. borealis ), but this is the first record of a nearly all white blue whale ( B. musculus ). Fourteen sightings made over 8 days by Cascadia Research personnel occurred in Southern California in 1999 and 2000 and appear to be the same whale seen by Mingan Island Cetacean Study in the Sea of Cortez , Mexico in 1997. This animal, while distinctive, could not be identified using pigmentation patterns typically diagnostic in blue whale photographic identification due to its white coloration. Reidentification of this whale had to be based on scars and dorsal fin shape. Position, depth, and behavioral data were recorded for all sightings and a biopsy sample (still being analyzed) was obtained during one sighting in 1999. Ten of the fifteen sightings were from 1999 and occurred within a ten-mile radius over seven days in the Santa Barbara Channel, California . Four sightings from three days were made over a 28-day period in the summer of 2000, also off southern California . Though albinism and pseudo-albinism has been widely described in the literature, and often captures public interest, the scientific significance to cetacean research may be limited.

Chandler , T., J. Calambokidis, and R. Sears. 2001. First Report on Sightings of a White Blue Whale. Poster presented at the 14th biennial conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Vancouver, Canada, November 28-December 3, 2001.