White Sailfish: Myth or Reality?

An unusual catch shocks a seasoned crew


White whales may be a myth but white sailfish are a reality.  Captain George Beckwith encountered one while fishing off Costa Rica last winter.  "When it came up on the short rigger I knew something was unusual," Beckwith recalls.  But the big sailfish ate the shotgun bait and took off into the sun so the crew didn't get a good look at it until angler Joe Josey had the fish to the side of the boat. Beckwith was shocked to see an 80 pound sailfish that was almost completely white.  "I had heard of white sailfish before," he says, "but I had never seen one."

According to Dr. John Graves at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science albinism can occur in any species of animal, but no one knows why the condition seems to favor sailfish. Scientists do know that albinism can turn an animal's skin completely or partially white or pink and is caused by a mutation in one of the enzymes that produces pigment in the animal's skin.  Back at the dock in Los Suenos, Beckwith's story caused a big stir.  "It was the talk of the charter fleet," he says, "everyone had a theory or story about white sailfish."   As for Beckwith, he says, "It was pretty cool, I feel real lucky to catch that fish."