A rare pink bottlenose dolphin has been spotted with his mother for the second time in eight years, according to a Louisiana fisherman. Pinkie, nicknamed for her pink skin—a condition caused by a form of albinoism—was recently spotted by Erik Rue, and his photos were added to a video that went viral this week.
To have seen a pink bottlenose dolphin at all is rare. Only 15 albino bottlenose dolphins have been seen since 1962. It’s so rare that some people guess there may only be less than 20 in the whole world. The last to surface was in 2014, reportedly in Japan, and before that, 2007 and Rue’s initial Pinkie citing in Louisiana. Some suggest that reports are curbed out of fear for the animals’ safety. These seldom-seen albino dolphins could easily be harmed by people trying to observe, feed or otherwise interfere with what is still very much a wild creature.
Albinism in the animal kingdom is a rarity just as it is among humans. Scientists say that one of every 10 thousand births will result in albinism. Albinism in dolphins has its own set of dangers. For instance, albino dolphins’ skin isn’t as protective against the sun’s harsh rays and can end up causing the dolphin to be sunburned.
Two of the most famous pink dolphin sightings are on opposite sides of the world: Louisiana’s “Pinkie” and the Japanese “Angel.”
Captain Erik Rue first spotted the calf he affectionately nicknamed “Pinkie” in 2007 at Lake Calcasieu, an inland saltwater estuary in Louisiana. It was one of the first reports in America. Rue, 42, is one of the few people to have ever observed the rare, adorable wild dolphin. As Rue put it, “The dolphin appears to be healthy and normal other than its coloration, which is quite beautiful and stunningly pink.”
Rue added that he has often observed Pinkie, spotting the little dolphin trailing its mother more than 40 times.
A Japanese female calf that was less than 1 year old was previously spotted in 2014. Unlike Pinkie, Angel wasn’t found in nature. Instead, she was caught in part of the Taiji dolphin hunt off the coast of Japan. Conservationists quickly noted Angel’s rarity and took it to a Japanese whale museum. However, though it was in captivity, the museum officials worried for its long term survival.
“Albinos stand out and tend to be targeted by predators,” said the Taiji Whale Museum’s Tetsuya Kirihata. “She must have been protected by her mother and her mates. We will take good care of her.”
Stan Kuczaj, an outspoken wildlife expert and the director of the Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi, spoke out about the Japanese albino’s chances for survival.
“Calves that have stranded for various reasons have sometimes been nursed back to health by humans, but others have died,” he noted. “So the calf could survive, but that is certainly not guaranteed. We know little about the effects of trauma [and] stress on young marine mammals, but it seems likely that this calf was very stressed by the hunt and so could be at even greater risk, especially since it was separated from its mother.”
Naomi Rose, a dolphin and killer whale expert based in the Animal Welfare Institute, was horrified by the capture of the pink baby dolphin.
“Taking a dependent calf goes against every established conservation principle there is. It was wrong ethically, biologically, and in terms of management,” Rose said. “It was wrong on every level and just plain cruel.”
Luckily, Pinkie was seen playing in the water and trailing its mother. Observation from a distance is the safest way to view these creatures, experts say. They are, after all, wild.