OWLS HEAD, Maine — Alexandra Knight said she has worked at the Owls Head Lobster Co. for 12 years and had never seen a white lobster hauled in by lobstermen.
In the past week, however, two of those rare albino lobsters have landed across the business’ dock. The first was caught Saturday off Rockland by local lobsterman Joe Bates, who said Friday that he couldn’t at first believe what he had hauled up in one of his traps. The second came Thursday, when Bert Philbrick of Owls Head caught one off the shores of his town.
“It was a total shock to see him there,” said Bates, who fishes from the boat the Lobsta Mobsta. “I wasn’t sure what to think — and then I realized it was something special.”
That’s for sure, agreed Elaine Jones, director of the Maine State Aquarium in Boothbay Harbor and education director for the Maine Department of Marine Resources, who said she had heard one of the lobsters would be donated to her facility. In the 20 years since the department built the aquarium, she’s only seen one other true albino lobster. The odds of finding one are thought to be one in 100 million, according to the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute.
“The albino are the rarest,” Jones said Friday.
Lobster shells are usually a blend of the three primary colors — red, yellow and blue. Those colors mix to form the greenish-brown of most lobsters, but when there is an absence of one of the colors, the other shades express themselves differently, Jones said. But albino lobsters have none of the colors, and if they were to be cooked, their shells would remain white.
“We won’t try that,” she said, hastily.
The odds of catching a blue lobster are reckoned to be one in 2 million, according to the Lobster Institute. The odds of catching live red lobsters are estimated to be one in 10 million, and the odds of finding a yellow lobster or a calico-spotted lobster are one in 30 million. Bi-colored lobsters, with a shell that is half orange and half brown, are even more rare, figured to occur about one in 50 million.
Bates said that two days after finding the albino lobster, he pulled up an orange-yellow lobster from the cold waters of Penobscot Bay. That lobster also is being stored at the Owls Head Lobster Co. pound. The lobsterman joked that he hoped he won’t pull up anything else remarkable in his traps on Friday.
“I’m dying to get up north for a change of scenery,” he said.
Bates had to call the marine wardens to make sure he could bring in the albino lobster because it is shorter than the legal length, according to Alexandra Knight, who said he was given permission to do so because it wouldn’t be sold.
Stephen Brooks of Brooks Trap Mill in Thomaston said Friday that his lobster supply store might get one of the albino lobsters to exhibit in its saltwater tank. He said he went over to look at them on Friday and found that one has a blue tinge, but the other is much whiter.
“I thought it was fake,” he said of the whiter one. “I have never seen one before, not like that.”
Jones said that if the Maine State Aquarium does receive one of the albino lobsters, officials there will make sure it’s healthy and eating before they put it on exhibit. “Media” lobsters, which have gained some fame, often can be handled a lot before they get to their final destination. One of those is Skyler, a bright blue lobster that 14-year-old Meghan LaPlante of Old Orchard Beach pulled a couple of weeks ago, and which recently was brought to the aquarium. Skyler has been given his own tank because the lobsters already in the 250-gallon “rainbow of colors” tank have been together all summer and can be quite territorial, Jones said.
“We don’t want to upset the dynamics of that tank right now,” Jones said, adding that Skyler is doing wonderfully. “We do our best to please the public and let them see these rarities.”