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 1520 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.
Image: Photographs of a white humpback whale from Svalbard, taken on 10 August 2012, showing (a) the animal swimming with an individual of normal colouration; (b) the white individual’s dorsal side and serrated trailing edge of the ﬂuke; and (c) the underside of the ﬂuke, with dark patches of pigmentation.