A dolphin with dazzling white skin has left whale-watchers stunned after it made a rare appearance off the US coast.
The creature was spotted off Laguna Beach in Southern California among a pod of 40 Risso’s dolphins by the crew of a wildlife touring vessel.
Incredible photos and videos of the sighting capture the dolphin’s ghostly white presence among its darker peers.
Its colour evokes the deathly white sperm whale of literary legend, Moby Dick. Sperm whales and Risso’s dolphins are closely related, both being cetaceans.
However it’s unclear whether the dolphin is a true albino like Moby Dick, or whether it has leucism – a catch-all term for a variety of conditions which cause animals to lose colour.
Jessica Roame, education manager at Newport Coastal Adventure, which operates the vessel, described the sighting as “incredible”.
She said: “Crew members made an incredible and rare sighting.
“Their boat discovered a pod of 40 Risso’s dolphins just three miles off Laguna Beach. Among this group of dolphins was a stunning white adult.
“Risso’s dolphins are born dark grey and tend to lighten up as they age.
“This is due, in part, to the many scratches they receive from the teeth of other Risso’s dolphins – which is typical social behaviour.
“It’s also do to with with the scarring from the beaks and tentacles of squid, which is their main food source.
“However our white Risso’s dolphin was completely unique in colour!”
Jessica added: “While it is not known if the dolphin is a true albino or if it may be leucistic, it certainly stands out from the other normally-coloured Risso’s dolphins, and is easily spotted on the water.”
The crew said they had only encountered the dolphin twice before, once last summer and once in 2017.
Risso’s dolphins can grow up to 13 feet long and typically travel in groups of up to 50, though sometimes “super-pods” can form incorporating thousands of individuals.
They have an estimated lifespan of at least 35 years.
Newport Coastal Adventure runs daily whale and wildlife watching tours of the Southern California coast all year round.