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A white humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Atlantic Ocean, Svalbard, Norway, August 2012

Author(s): Christian Lydersen | Nils Øien | Bjarni Mikkelsen | Simon Bober | Dan Fisher | Kit M. Kovacs

Journal: Polar Research
ISSN 0800-0395

Volume: 32;
Start page: 1;
Date: 2013;
Original page

Keywords: White humpback whale | Megaptera novaeangliae | Svalbard | leucism.

A white humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) was observed on several occasions off Svalbard, Norway, during August 2012. The animal was completely white, except for a few small dark patches on the ventral side of its fluke. The baleen plates were light-coloured, but the animal's eyes had normal (dark) colouration. This latter characteristic indicates that the animal was not an albino; it was a leucistic individual. The animal was a full-sized adult and was engaged in “bubble-feeding”, together with 15–20 other humpback whales, each time it was seen. Subsequent to these sightings, polling of the marine mammal science community has resulted in the discovery of two other observations of white humpback whales in the Barents Sea area, one in 2004 and another in 2006; in both cases the observed individuals were adult animals. It is likely that all of these sightings are of the same individual, but there is no genetic or photographic evidence to confirm this suggestion. The rarity of observations of such white individuals suggests that they are born at very low frequencies or that the ontogenetic survival rates of the colour morph are low.
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