Rare Photos Show White Calf of Critically Endangered Southern Right Whale

Rare photos have captured a white calf of a critically endangered southern right whale.

Photographer Christiaan Stopforth of Drone Fanatics SA captured the images after the white calf was spotted on a drone, swimming off Mossel Bay in South Africa.

The calf is known as a "brindle" animal. The condition causes the animal to be a bright white color. Brindle colouration is different from albinism—a condition where animals appear lighter in color, due to a lack of pigmentation in the skin.

Brindle coloration in whales is extremely rare. Only about four percent of southern right whales are brindle colored when they are born, and most of them turn gray as they grow up.

White whale
A picture shows the brindle calf with its mother. Although rare, there are a few brindle calves spotted each year. Christiaan Stopforth/ Drone Fanatics SA

On a Facebook post in Drone Fanatics SA, Stopforth said he was "totally amazed" when a friend of his sent him footage of the calf swimming next to its mother.

Stopforth then set about looking for the calf, in order to capture more images.

"The moment everyone has been waiting for," Stopforth said when posting the images. "In the pictures [...] you will see a white southern right calf that is called a brindle animal [..] this type of [calf is] quite rare and you will not see them quite often."

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A picture shows a white southern right whale calf swimming next to its mother. The brindle coloration is extremely rare. Christiaan Stopforth/ Drone Fanatics SA

Stopforth spoke to a research manager of the Whale Unit at the University of Pretoria, Dr Els Vermeulen, to learn more about the calf.

"Brindle is basically semi albino's, 94% of these individuals are males, as the genes of this colouration pattern is on the sex chromosome," Stopforth said. "Whales are solitary animals and ... thus normal they don't interact too much with each other."

Jean Tresfon, a Cape Town based aerial Photographer, commented on the Facebook post.

"Brindle is a lighter colouration whereas albinism is a complete lack of pigmentation. Although they are much rarer than the normal colour calves, we still see a few brindle calves every year during the aerial surveys," he said.

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A picture shows the brindle calf from above. The brindle coloration makes it appear bright white in color. Christiaan Stopforth/ Drone Fanatics SA

Southern right whales are critically endangered. They live in the southern and sub Antarctic oceans for most of the year, and migrate to warmer waters in winter, during their breeding season. During this time they can be found in waters off South Africa, South America and Australia.

The species used to be abundant. However, they were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s by whalers.

The species got their name as they were considered the "right whale" to catch, as its meat had a high oil content.

Southern right whales are now protected and numbers have slowly been increasing in waters worldwide. However threats do remain, and the species is prone to getting entangled in commercial fishing nets, and is under threat from vessel strikes, and habitat degradation.

Newsweek has contacted Christiaan Stopforth for further comment on the photographs.

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A picture shows the brindle calf in the water. Southern right whales are critically endangered. Christiaan Stopforth/ Drone Fanatics SA