NEW ORLEANS — What’s pink, has red eyes and leaps around a Louisiana shipping channel long enough for you to believe your eyes?
A rare albino bottlenose dolphin.
Bottlenose dolphins are common in the lower Calcasieu Ship Channel, feeding in the deep water and riding on top of boats’ waves.
And when the pink one jumps amid four dark grey dolphins, it’s easy to spot.
The albino is just the 14th reported worldwide, and the third in the Gulf of Mexico, according to biologist Dagmar Fertl of Plano, Texas.
It was first reported by Wesley Lockard of Rayville, La., as a small calf in June 2007.
Lockard, 26, said he and family members were fishing when they were stunned by the sight. “Something comes up and you say, ‘Wow! Did I just …?’ Then he comes up again and you say, ‘Yeah! I just saw a pink dolphin!”’ he said.
Now, the mammal is as much a part of the channel south of Lake Charles as boats and fishermen.
“We see him on a pretty regular basis,” said Roddy Blackburn, crewman and relief captain of a boat that ferries pilots to ships.
But spotting the pink one, believed to be about 2 1/2 years old, does take time. Michael Harbison, a state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist, has seen it several times, but only when he wasn’t looking for it. He spent two trips — one for 10 hours — trying to locate it but didn’t see the dolphin.
The albino is usually seen with four adults, and probably splits time between the Gulf and the lower 16 kilometres of the ship channel, said Harbison. Typically, dolphins surface for a second or so to breathe, then dive for up to 10 minutes, moving about a kilometre or more.
Five days after the initial sighting was reported nearly two years ago, the dolphin was seen again.
For 90 minutes, fisherman Randy Smith watched the dolphin leap alongside an adult they assumed was its mother.
“It was unbelievable,” said Smith, who was returning from a Gulf fishing trip with friends when he saw the dolphin.
Many people refer to the dolphin as a male, though its sex is unknown.
Biologist Mandy Tumlin of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries hopes more people will report sightings and give officials as much detail as possible. But they should stay at least 50 metres away and limit themselves to a half-hour of watching to keep the animals from getting too comfortable with people and boats, she said.
No specific studies are planned, but sightings will help the department track the animal.
“As rare as this is, we’re trying to get as much as we can (about) this one individual,” she said. “We definitely want to protect it and keep it safe.”