An uncommon white albinistic dolphin in the Taiji Whale Museum in the southern part of Japan has become a major crowd-puller. The extraordinary marine mammal turns pink when it is in an emotional state, such as feeling embarrassed, angry, or sad.
Unlike the typical grey colour of bottlenose dolphins, the unique characteristic of blushing is due to its thin skin, which influences the tone of the blood vessels when experiencing various emotional states, just like humans. Notably, such a dolphin is among the rarest marine mammals, and there has only ever been one other put on display in an aquarium.
The mammal was purchased from fishermen during the annual dolphin hunt in Taiji in 2020, where the hunters get more money from selling it to an aquarium than as meat because of its unusual colouration.
The Taiji hunt has been made infamous by Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” portraying fishermen capturing hundreds of dolphins for immediate slaughter or confinement in aquariums. In 2011, Wakayama Prefecture reported capturing 1,218 dolphins and small whales in Taiji, but it did not specify how many of those were killed.
Last year, environmental activists sued the Taiji Whaling Museum, claiming that it had refused to let experts check on the wellbeing of the elusive creature. The museum countered this by stating that health had been monitored through regular blood tests and that they were diligently keeping it “physically and mentally healthy” for further research.
According to experts, such a marine mammal’s survival is precarious since they are easy targets at sea as they cannot blend in with their grey coloured relatives. It is a wonder that this albinistic dolphin has survived for so long before being caught and brought to the museum.
The Taiji Whaling Museum, in collaboration with Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology and the Institute of Cetacean Research, published a study on the mammal in the journal Mammal Study in March 2015. The researchers are determined to ensure that this exceptional creature remains in good health for future research while they continue to draw fascinated crowds to the museum.