[MARMAM] White Blue whale

John Calambokidis Calambokidis at cascadiaresearch.org
Wed Aug 27 14:10:52 PDT 2008

Andrea Steffen posted an inquiry to MARMAM yesterday requesting information on a sighting she had of a white blue whale. I have been able to confirm through looking at her photos that this is the same white blue whale that has been seen more than 20 times going back to 1999 off California and in Mexico and documented as part of our long-term photo-ID study of blue whales in the eastern North Pacific. Most recent sightings were in September 2007 in the Santa Barbara Channel. A skin sample collected in 1999 and analyzed by Southwest Fisheries Science Center revealed this individual was a male. A summary on the sightings of this animal though 2001 were presented at the 2001 Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals (see abstract below). At this point we do not know if this animal is a true albino or just an anomalously pigmented animal but a skin sample from this animal remains archived in case this can be tested molecularly or genetically.



John Calambokidis

Research Biologist

Cascadia Research

218 1/2 W 4th Ave. 

Olympia, WA  98501


calambokidis at cascadiaresearch.org

Tel. (360)943-7325 ext 104

FAX (360)943-7325


Chandler, T., J. Calambokidis, and R. Sears. 2001. First report on sightings of a white blue whale. in:  Abstracts Fourteenth Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Vancouver, British Columbia. 28 November - 3 December 2001.  Society for Marine Mammalogy, Lawrence, KS.


First Report on Sightings of a White Blue Whale 

Chandler, Todd1, Calambokidis, John1, and Sears, Richard2

1Cascadia Research

First Author Address: 218½ W 4th Ave., Olympia, WA, 98501, USA 

2Mingan Island Cetacean Study, Toronto, St. Lambert, Q.C., Canada

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 and collaborators 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.  Re-identification 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. In most sightings the animal was alone although many other blue whales were present in the vicinity. In several cases the animal briefly traveled as the lead animal in a pair (a position generally taken by females). 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.



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