UPDATE (JUNE 12, 2017): Patches has returned to California once again! The local cetacean celebrity was seen with a group of 50 other dolphins near Long Beach. Find out more about this animal's unique coloration in the original article below.


A well-known bottlenose dolphin with a rare mutation has been spotted off the coast of California. Known as "Patches" by locals, the unique animal has been making appearances along the US Pacific coast for nearly ten years. 

Image: Newport Coastal Adventure/Facebook

Like many of the splotchy cetaceans we've written about before, Patches has a genetic disorder that causes a partial lack of the pigment melanin. Known as leucism, the condition differs from albinism, which results in a total lack of pigment (and tell-tale red eyes). Aside from the leucistic spots, many of the markings you see in the photographs are tooth rakes, the result of dominance disputes with other males.

We've seen examples of leucism in everything from southern right whales and great white sharks to peacocks – but Patches is the first leucistic dolphin that's crossed our paths. For Laguna Beach local Ryan Lawler, owner of Newport Coastal Adventure, the sighting was one off the bucket list. 

"I was very excited, I hear so much about him,” he told the OC Register. Lawler and his charter guests spent some 20 minutes scanning the horizon once they'd heard rumours of the blotchy visitor, but Patches didn't come alone. He was one of about a hundred dolphins cruising the shoreline. 

Some have speculated that Patches could be the hybrid offspring of a bottlenose and Risso's dolphin, and while this is possible, experts say it's not likely. Risso's dolphins also possess mottled colouring, but in this case, it's the result of intense scarring. 

Without a tissue or blood sample, Patches' origin story remains unconfirmed, but he's certainly one very distinctive dolphin.  

"By tracking Patches, we can track the pod's behaviour," adds Lawler, who's eager to hear from anyone who encounters the dolphin. Patches was last seen heading south towards San Diego. Who knows where he'll pop up next!

Image: Newport Coastal Adventure/Facebook


Top header image: George Paterson, Flickr