The rare white dolphin is the star of an amateur video filmed by Danielle Carter, a volunteer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Carter took the video when she unexpectedly noticed the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) swimming along the Indian River in Central Florida on Dec. 10.
The footage shows the white dolphin swimming in shallow water near the shore, a strategic place to catch fish such as sea trout, pinfish or mullet, said Blair Mase, the Southeast region marine mammal stranding coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“A lot of times when they act that way, they are herding fish into the shallows [to feed]” Mase told Live Science.
The video only provides several glimpses of the dolphin, but the animal looks like a healthy subadult, meaning it’s likely a few years old, Mase said. In spite of the dolphin’s white body, it’s difficult to say whether the animal is a true albino, Mase added.
In addition to white or fair skin and hair, other telltale signs of albinism include pink or red eyes and impaired vision. Albinism in marine creatures is rare, and most of scientists’ knowledge of the condition comes from human studies, Mase said. People with the genetic predisposition lack the melanin pigment, usually because they inherited recessive genes from both of their parents, or in rare cases, from just one parent.
For animals in the wild, albinism can cause problems, Mase said. Albinos are also particularly sensitive to the sun and sunburns, and their white skin can make it hard to camouflage themselves against predators, she said.
The condition has been observed in 20 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. But NOAA has recorded just 14 previous sightings of albino bottlenose dolphins since the agency started counting such individuals in 1962, Mase said.