Albinism in cetaceans

This publication talk about albinism in cetaceans and give some examples about it.

WHAT IS ALBINISM?

Albinism is a group of inherited conditions resulting in little or no pigment (hypopigmentation) in the eyes or in the eyes, skin and hair. Mammals’ pigmentation depends on the presence or absence of melanin in the skin, hair and eyes. Melanin is produced by amino acid tyrosine thanks to enzyme tyrosinase, whose alteration cause albinism. The other case is the overproduction, known as melanism, and the result is overly dark animals.

ALBINO CETACEANS

Albino marine mammals have been reported for 21 cetacean species (Fertl et al. 1999; Ferlt et al. 2004) and 7 pinniped species (Rodriguez & Bastida, 1993; Bried & Haubreux, 2000). Some cetacean species are sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and killer whales (Orcinus orca).

Chédiak-Higashi Syndorme is a type of albinism that consists on diluted pigmentantion patterns that appear pale gray eye, white blood cell abnormalities and a shortened life span. It was detected on Chimo, a female killer whale (picture).

chimo
Chimo, an albino killer whale (Picture: Orcinus orca).

Albinism means some associated problems to marine mammals: it reduces the heat absorption in colder waters, it eases the detection for depredators, it increases the eye and skin sensibility to sunlight and it reduces the visual communication.

REFERENCES

  • FERTL, D; PUSSER, L. T.; & LONG, J. J. (1999) First record of an albino bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) in the Gulf of Mexico, with a review of anomalously white cetaceans. Mar. Mamm. Sci. 15, 227-23
  • PERRIN, W. F.; WÜRSIG, B; THEWISSEN, J. G. M. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (Ed. Academic Press, 2ª edició)

Difusió-anglès

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