Today’s Solutions: March 01, 2024

A white sperm whale was recently spotted by sailors off the coast of Jamaica. This beautiful creature is normally grey, though this rarer form is famous for its depiction in the classic novel “Moby Dick.”

Why does the whale have a white color?

These white giants lack color because of two possible reasons. The first is albinism, a genetic condition where no melanin is produced. The second possibility is leucism, melanin is also the culprit of this, but presents itself in a different way. All of an organism’s cells can be leucistic and appear white all over, though in some cases only groups of cells can carry this abnormality, resulting in a patchwork appearance. This pigment is what gives color to skin and hair in humans as well, so both conditions can occur in people too.

The sighting took place from the Dutch oil tanker Coral EnergICE on November 29. It was Captain Leo van Toly who captured a video of the breathtaking creature. He sent the footage straight to the director of the whale conservation charity SOS Dolfijn in the Netherlands. The group studied the video to confirm the sighting and posted it to their Facebook page for the world to see. The last time this rare event occurred was in 2015 off the coast of Sardinia, though previously white sperm whales have been spotted in Dominica and Azores.

Why is this sighting so special?

Due to the fact most of the ocean hasn’t been explored, scientists are unsure about the number of these animals actually swimming about out there. The expansive size of the oceans means even though whales are some of the biggest creatures on the planet, they can easily slip under the radar.

Sperm whales have been hunted throughout history for their blubber. Their large amounts of fat would be harvested and used for energy purposes, just like fossil fuels are today. Sadly, this human behavior pushed them to the brink of extinction. As whaling has been banned in a number of places, the species has been able to recover. Even so, there are still not as many as in previous times.

Sightings such as these, although brief, allow for scientists to gain a further understanding of the behavior and positioning of the species. This can help in the conservation of sperm whales themselves, plus other organisms in their ecosystem.

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