Eric Rue/Calcasieu Charter Service

Pink Albino Dolphin Attracts International Attention

March 08, 2009 08:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
The world’s only known pink bottlenose dolphin is an extraordinary example of an albino animal.

Pink Dolphin Spotted in Louisiana

A pink bottlenose dolphin has again surfaced in Louisiana’s Lake Calcasieu, an estuary north of the Gulf of Mexico. The dolphin, which gets its color from albinism, was seen by charter boat captain Erik Rue, who originally spotted and photographed it in June 2007.

“The dolphin appears to be healthy and normal other than its coloration, which is quite beautiful and stunningly pink,” said Rue. “The mammal is entirely pink from tip to tail and has reddish eyes indicating its albinism. The skin appears smooth, glossy pink and without flaws.”

Albinism is a rare condition seen in just 14 bottlenose dolphins since the first was spotted in 1962, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. It affects many species, including humans and 20 species of dolphins, whales and porpoises.

“Very little is known about albino dolphins due to their extreme rarity. What is known about albinism comes from humans,” explains the NOAA. “Albinism is a genetic predisposition, expressed as a lack of melanin pigments within the body. … This genetic trait is characterized by white or light skin and hair, the appearance of pink or red eye coloring and often-impaired vision.”

Albino dolphins, like albino animals of other species, are typically white in color; the pink dolphin is believed to be the only pink dolphin ever spotted. It “gets its brilliant pink color and bright red eyes from blood vessels that lie just below its layer of blubber,” explains the blog Living the Scientific Life.

The pink dolphin has attracted tourists to Lake Calcasieu, but conservationists warn that sightseers should be careful around it. “It is a truly beautiful dolphin but people should be careful, as with any dolphins, to respect it—observe from a distance, limit their time watching, don’t chase or harass it,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society to The Daily Telegraph.

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Background: Albinism in animals

Albinism is a genetic condition characterized by a reduced ability to produce melanin, a pigment that determines an animal’s skin, hair and eye color. Though the condition is rare, it has been spotted in most species of animals.

Albinism occurs when the gene for normal pigmentation—the dominant gene—is lacking, and a recessive gene for albinism is present. There are different levels of albinism; pure albinos have white or light pink skin and reddish-pink eyes.

The condition causes several problems for albino animals. They tend to be smaller than other animals and they are more susceptible to sun damage. “Dark pigments like melanin also help to protect skin and eyes from overexposure to sunlight,” explains the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Many albino animals face a higher risk of melanomas and retinal damage.”

Albinos also stand out from the fellow animals, making them more visible to predators and prey. Though this is likely a disadvantage, some studies have suggested that albinism makes an animal less likely to be identified as a predator or prey.

Albino animals are highly sought after as pets or as exhibits in zoos. “Their striking appearance has always made people wonder about albino animals,” says the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Some people believed albinos had special powers and worshiped them; others believed they were spooky and feared them.”

Reference: Pictures of the pink dolphin and other albino animals

Related Topic: Weird animals


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