Meet Mini-Moby the white harbor porpoise. Named after Moby Dick, the famous fictional white whale from the Herman Melvin book of the same name, Mini-Moby is an exceptional animal in more ways than one.
First, the condition that causes his white coloration is very rare. Mini-Moby is leucistic. Leucism is a genetic condition that causes an animal to lack pigmentation and appear white or mostly white (albinism is similar, but causes a total lack of pigmentation). Mini-Moby is mostly white with some darker coloration on his fins. Harbor porpoises are normally a gray color.
Second, harbor porpoises are special because they have made a remarkable comeback in the last few years in the San Francisco Bay, where they were absent for decades. The return of the species is a notable wildlife recovery success story in these times where the news about wildlife populations is usually bad. Here's a great video about the recovery.
Here's an excerpt about the work biologists are doing to study these harbor porpoises, Mini-Moby in particular, from an upcoming book by my National Wildlife Federation colleague Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, NWF's California Director. NWF is partnering with and supporting Golden Gate Cetacean Research's work on harbor porpoises.
“If it seems like making these connections from pattern identification would be an extremely time-consuming endeavor, then you are understanding the process. It requires an insane level of attention to detail. Sometime nature cuts the researchers a break with a very distinct looking animal. Take for instance, Mini-Moby. It’s a cetacean anyone can be trained to recognize. Mini-Moby is an albino porpoise first spotted in the Bay in 2011. He’s pretty hard to miss,” observes Bill, “he’s definitely the most recognizable porpoise in the Bay Area, if not the entire coast of California.” Almost entirely white, black accents decorate his dorsal fin and blowhole as if he donned the porpoise version of a tuxedo.
In the past 100 years, only a small number white porpoises have been documented worldwide, ranging in causes from true albinism to leucistic (reduced pigmentation) to hybridization with another animal. A GGCR paper, “First Record of Anomalously White Harbor Porpoises from the Pacific Ocean” characterized Mini-Moby’s condition as leucistic and also noted these animals appear to have a normal life span and despite their unique color don’t appear to be ostracized by their peers. Since Mini-Moby has proved social with other porpoises, he’s also employed as a natural marker for their research to track movements of his porpoise companions over time.