An incredibly rare albino humpback whale calf—similar to famed whale Migaloo—has been pictured swimming with its mom off the coast of Costa Rica.
The white calf was swimming alongside its mom, who did not have the same coloring as her calf.
Felipe Chávez, who captured the photos, said in a Facebook post that he thinks this could be a “huge discovery.”
The albino calf looks similar to Migaloo, the famed whale known for being one of the only confirmed albino humpback whales in the world. He was first spotted swimming off the coast off Byron Bay in Australia in 1991. Although there have been sightings of other rare white whales in the past few years, experts believe Migaloo might now be dead as he was last seen over two years ago.
Albinism—a condition where animals appear lighter in color due to a lack of pigmentation in the skin—in whales is rare, but it has been recorded in at least 20 different cetacean species to date. This includes humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins. Albinism is only likely to affect 1 in 10,000 humpback whales, research fellow at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation told Live Science.
Chávez told Newsweek that he had been making a flight from Aranjuez in Puntarenas to Nosara when he spotted the animal.
“We usually look for dips in the water and there are the whales. But when we were going along the coast there was something that was very white, we thought it was garbage, but then we saw that it was whales,” Chávez said. “As we saw it so white we thought it was belly up but then, seeing the photo in the camera, we realized that it was a completely white whale and that’s where we realized that it was something very strange. The whale swam with its mother. We continued to our destination and, when we came back, we found it again and took the opportunity to take pictures of it and fly over it. After a while she submerged, and we continued on our way.”
Although Chávez’s sighting is rare, it has not been the only one in recent years.
In April, a white humpback was spotted swimming with dolphins in Australia. Although it was confirmed that this whale was not Migaloo, it was suspected at the time that it came from the same population.
In August, a white southern right whale calf was also spotted swimming with its mom.
The calf is known as a “brindle” animal, rather than albino. The condition causes the animal to be a bright white color. Brindle coloration is different from albinism and extremely rare.
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