CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — A uniquely pigmented young bottlenose dolphin has been spotted in the Gulf of Mexico recently, and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is making sure beachgoers and those taking to local waters remember laws on marine life.
While many are calling the baby “albino,” those at CMA are not referring to the animal as such without further photographic research. CMA monitors all dolphins in their area as part of its “Dorsal Fin ID” program.
The pale dolphin has been identified as a less than 1-year-old nicknamed “Cherub,” the third known calf of a dolphin known as “Guardian” who has been studied by the aquarium since 2015.
Savannah Gandee is a co-investigator of the current research into the baby dolphin. She explained the aquarium is still working on the said investigation with non-invasive measures in place in order to determine whether or not the dolphin has albinism.
Gandee said the animal does not have red eyes, a common sign of albinism, so they are currently referring to Cherub as having “atypical coloration.”
On its wildlife boat tour, CMA visitors have been able to capture cell phone video of the dolphin.
“For the first few times we were noticing this animal, those were the opportunistically collected videos that from a cell phone, so now we’re trying to go out there, and if it happened to be nearby while we’re on a tour, we’ve got higher quality cameras to get some more information,” said Gandee.
The young dolphin is missing a fin and the aquarium describes the calf as “hypopigmented,” as it has some coloring and the color of its eyes is normal.
The calf appears to be in good condition and is currently behaving as normal.
“Dolphins are very similar in the way they learn to humans in that they are not born with basic survival instincts like a snake or a reptile might be. And they have to be with their mother through the first few years of their life in order to one day be on their own,” Gandee said.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium is, however, concerned that harassment will increase due to recent reports and sightings of the animal and many locals and tourists wanting to witness an “albino” dolphin.
“What we would like to just advocate for is just responsibly viewing dolphins, considering they are a wild animal, they are a federally protected animal, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, so it is illegal to harass them,” said Gandee.
Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act harassment, it is illegal and a fineable offense.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and CMA, harassment is defined as “any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance, which has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); or has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (Level B harassment).”
Moving forward, CMA is hoping to connect with those who live and work near the marina to share information so everyone can be responsible around the young dolphin.
“Mostly I think it’s going to be that we all need to be work together to set a good example, not only as the eco-tourism in the area but for those who are visiting the area… Just making sure that [this animal] is staying protected,” said Gandee.