The sight of a dolphin swimming next to a boat is not uncommon — the Internet is home to thousands of examples captured on shaky, handheld video.
But if you’re traveling down the Calcasieu Ship Channel, about 100 miles west of Lafayette, La., you might encounter a much rarer sight: an albino dolphin.
That’s what happened to Bridget Boudreaux and her husband on Aug. 5.
“I about fell out the boat,” Boudreaux told the CBS affiliate in Houston, KHOU. “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s not a regular dolphin, that’s a pink dolphin.’”
The dolphin in question is known to locals as Pinky, and it has been swimming the shipping channel since at least 2007, when a charter boat captain first reported spotting it.
Pinky’s albinism is “exceptionally rare, but not unheard of,” said Eric Hovland, associate curator at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. “Since there’s no pigment there, the only coloration comes from the blood vessels and the tissues.”
Albinism affects one out of every 10,000 mammals, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But most of what’s known about the condition has come from research on humans. Very little is know about albino dolphins, NOAA says, because of “their extreme rarity.”
The agency cites five possible albino bottlenose dolphin sightings in the southeastern United States. Among them is Pinky, NOAA says:
An albino dolphin calf was first photographed in June 2007 at Calcasieu Lake, an estuary in southwestern Louisiana, and has been reportedly seen many times since.
Photographs and videos of this dolphin have been widely circulated due to the rare occurrence of albino dolphins. Although the dolphin is often referred to as a “pink” dolphin because of its pink coloration, it is considered an albino. The dolphin’s mother is not albino and has the gray coloring typical of coastal bottlenose dolphins. Dolphin calves are typically born dark gray in color. All sightings of this dolphin have been off Louisiana and most of the time it was seen swimming with a group.
Dolphins are commonly found in the ship channel where Boudreaux spotted Pinky, because it is a good place for mother dolphins to teach their calves necessary behaviors such as foraging, said Gabriella Vazquez, the stranding coordinator at Audubon Coastal Wildlife Network.
The channel also offers another dolphin-friendly activity: riding the wake, which is what Pinky is doing in the video.
“What it boils down to is it’s fun to go surfing, and the dolphins are taking advantage of that in riding along in the wake in front of that large barge,” Hovland said.
Pinky sightings are chronicled on a Facebook page that has more than 3,000 followers.