Rare sight: Ever seen a white dolphin? There’s one hanging out in Laguna Beach

A bright white Risso’s dolphin made an appearance off Laguna Beach on Friday, May 14, a rare sight for local waters.

“It’s like a snowy white color,” said Newport Coastal Adventure captain Ryan Lawler, who said the dolphin was spotted with about 40 others about three miles off the coast. “Immediately we saw the white, I was like ‘Wow, what is that?”

Risso’s dolphins are typically a dark color, gray but sometimes they will have lighter spots. Patches is a well-known dolphin that frequents the Orange County coastline, and has splotches of black, white and pink skin.

Lawler said he wasn’t sure if this dolphin would qualify as an albino because it had a few darker accents.

Regardless, “it’s really beautiful,” he said.

A white Risso’s dolphin was spotted just three miles off Laguna Beach on May 14, 2021, a rare sight off local waters. (Photo courtesy of Delaney Trowbridge/Newport Coastal Adventure)

Lawler said it could be the same dolphin spotted last July between Newport Beach and Catalina on an all-day trip.

“We think it’s the same one, but no one has seen it since then,” he said. “It’s really special. It really sticks out so obviously. It’s pretty cool.”

Andre Esteves, a photographer from Los Angeles, got to see the white dolphin both times, a “pretty awesome” experience.

“It’s pretty rare,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to spot out here. It’s pretty exciting.”

Lawler said marine mammals with a white pigmentation are believed to have a “genetic disruption.” Around the world, there’s been sightings of other all-white sea creatures such as killer whales and a white humpback whale.

“You only hear of them a couple times a year around the globe,” he said.

The dolphin’s difference in skin color didn’t seem to impact its social interactions, coming up about 100 feet from the boat and frolicking with the other dolphins.

“He’s not an outcast, he’s totally in the middle of the pod playing around with other dolphins,” Lawler said from the boat as passengers watched in awe.

Risso’s dolphins are less commonly spotted off Southern California than bottlenose or common dolphins.

Lawler said they see the species anywhere from 12 to 24 times a year, but some years, such as in 2016, they don’t show at all.

They have rounder heads like sperm whales and from a distance can look like orcas because of their large dorsal fins.

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