'A Real Moby Dick': Incredibly Rare White Sperm Whale Filmed Off Jamaica Coast

A real-life Moby Dick has been filmed off the Jamaican coast, with a crewmember of a merchant ship spotting a 30-foot-long white sperm whale.

Leo van Toly, from the Dutch conservation and marine rescue organization SOS Dolfijn and captain of the LNG Tanker Coral Encanto, when he spotted the white whale. He sent the video to his colleagues at SOS Dolfijn so they could identify the creature in the footage.

They determined it to be a white sperm whale, with other experts later confirming their observation.

"Usually SOS Dolfijn mainly shares news about cetaceans in the North Sea. But this observation is unique and the story is also quite special," the organization said in a Facebook post about the encounter.

"A real Moby Dick! White whales are very special sightings. Sperm whales are usually dark gray in color. An adult sperm whale can grow up to 18 meters (59 feet) in length. The length of the white sperm whale is estimated at 10 meters (32 feet)."

Moby Dick is the title of Herman Melville's 1851 novel. In it, a sailor, Ishmael, recounts the tale of a sea captain, Ahab, and his obsession with gaining revenge on an enormous white sperm whale that took part of his leg. In the end, Ahab harpoons the whale and in return Moby Dick attacks and sinks Ahab's ship killing all onboard except Ishmael.

Sightings of white sperm whales are relatively rare. One was seen off the coast of Sardinia in 2015 by researchers from the University of Sassari and tourists onboard a whale-watching expedition. According to Italian news agency ANSA, this was the first time a white sperm whale had been seen in the area for nine years.

Other whale species are occasionally spotted with white skin, including grey whales and orca. In November, whale watchers off the coast of San Diego spotted a rare white baby killer whale that they dubbed Frosty.

These white whales are not necessarily albino. Instead, it is thought they have a skin condition called leucism. This is a condition characterized by the loss of pigmentation in the skin, resulting in a white or pale coloration on parts or all of the body.

Sperm whales are listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. Threats include pollution and collisions with ships, as well as fishing and harvesting of ocean resources. Their population plummeted in the 19th and 20th centuries as they were primary targets of the industrial whaling industry.

sperm whale
Stock image of a sperm whale. A white sperm whale has been filmed off the coast of Jamaica. Getty Images