Photo Credit: seawatchfoundation.org
What’s being called an “extraordinary sighting” by Whale and Dolphin Conservation marine biologist Fabian Ritter, one of the rarest animals on earth, a white harbor porpoise, was reported in the Baltic Sea near Denmark last week. Fortunately, the person who sighted the extremely rare marine mammal recognized it, despite being a layperson and was able to record the beautiful creature on camera:
Sightings of white harbor porpoise are so rare that only 15 sightings have been reported over the last century. Ritter also pointed out that the porpoise behaved in an unusual manner, noting, “This animal appears to be playing with the vessel, swims alongside it and rides the bow wave. That is quite unusual behavior for a harbor porpoise. I’m not saying it’s impossible, they are usually a wary species, and not especially interested in vessels. This is quite curious behavior.”
White harbor porpoises are almost never seen. On the rare occasion they have, the sightings took place in 1911, 1928, 1929, 1937 and 1988 in Ukraine, Scotland, Ireland and Denmark. In 2007, you might recall the news about a white porpoise that was spotted underneath San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
Photo Credit: CDN
Ritter explained to The Dodo that the white color of the harbor porpoise is due to leucism, a genetic condition marked by a partial lack of skin pigmentation. Although it’s unusual, he said, there are reports of other white marine mammals, including an orca off the coast of Russia and a famous humpback whale named Migaloo.
Porpoises with leucism face a lot of challenges, Ritter also said, including not being able to camouflage to defend against predators, toxins in the sea and potential damage to vision, hearing or skin. But the good news is that at least so far, this beautiful porpoise has outlived all the threats as Ritter added, “It appears that this is an adult. And although it’s susceptible and more visible, it has made it until adulthood without being predated.”