A video of the white whale was posted on Facebook on Tuesday by SOS Dolfijn, a Netherlands-based whale and dolphin rescue organization. The distant, blurry video shows some of the whale’s white skin and steam gushing out of the whale’s vent as it surfaces.
SOS Dolfijn said the animal was around 10 meters long and identified it as a sperm whale – the same species as Moby Dick, the famous white whale from the 19th century novel by American writer Herman Melville.
Shane Gero, a scientist in residence at Carleton University and founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project, who saw the video, confirmed that it was “certainly a sperm whale.”
SOS Dolfijn said the video was sent to them by an employee, Annemarie van den Berg. She had received it from her husband, Leo van Toly, captain of a merchant ship, who spotted the whale on Monday while sailing along the Jamaican coast, Dutch media network RTL Nieuws reported.
Sperm whales are normally dark gray or brown.
Gero called the sighting of a white sperm whale a rare occurrence. “It’s awesome,” he said. “Obviously, it’s exciting. “
In recent years, an adult white sperm whale has been photographed off the Azores, as well as a calf off Dominica.
The one seen off Jamaica was about the size of an adult female in the Caribbean, Gero said, although it is not known whether the spotted whale was male or female. Males get much bigger, up to 18 meters long.
If it is a female, it is unlikely to be the same calf seen in Dominica, as female whales live in multigenerational families that do not travel very far in the region, Gero said. , which studies the culture, family life and communication of whales. .
The males go further; male sperm whales sighted in Canada may have originated from the Caribbean.
There hasn’t been a lot of research on sperm whales off Jamaica, Gero said, but he’s very interested in doing it.
The excitement over the recent sighting and references to Moby Dick is a reminder of how important whales were to society, he said, especially to provide fuel in the form of whale oil before the existence of fossil fuels.
Moby Dick is a book about this whaling industry, where the character of Captain Ahab is obsessed with the idea of revenge for the very recognizable whale that bit his leg from the knee down.
“He’s been a cultural icon, at least in the English-speaking world, for a long, long time,” Gero said.
Sperm whales are found in all of the world’s oceans and in the Mediterranean Sea. Before commercial whaling, there were around 1.1 million worldwide, but the current population is only around 360,000, according to the Dominica Sperm Whale Project.