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"White Alligator" at The Maritime Aquarium

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Captain Ahab had an obsession with a certain white whale. Alice chased a white rabbit down a hole to Wonderland. And, this summer, visitors to The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk can ponder over one of the rarest real animals they’ll ever see: a white alligator.

The Maritime Aquarium will present a “White Alligator” exhibit from May 26 (Memorial Day weekend) through Labor Day. It’s free with Aquarium admission.

Of some 5 million or so American alligators thought to be alive, fewer than 100 are white, according to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, which owns this “great white of the wetlands.”

The 8-foot American alligator that’s coming to The Maritime Aquarium is an albino animal – its teeth, dear, and its skin are all pearly white. Albino animals (and people) lack the pigment, called melanin, that normally gives color to the skin, hair and eyes.

Aside from being white with pink eyes, the alligator looks, swims and eats like a regular ’gator.

White alligators are rare because, when young and small in the wild, they cannot hide from predators. Also, alligators are cold-blooded reptiles that rely upon the warmth of their surroundings for energy. Unfortunately, white alligators can’t bask in the sun because they’re susceptible to sunburns. (The Aquarium’s visiting white alligator will enjoy a special shaded, heated enclosure.)

“We’ve been fortunate enough to display a white alligator in the past and it was extremely popular,” said Chris Loynd, the Aquarium’s marketing director. “In fact, one of the top questions that is asked of our volunteer staff is, ‘Is the white alligator still here?’ So this summer we’ll be happy to be able to answer, ‘Yes!’”

Loynd said the “White Alligator” exhibit will be a bonus incentive for visitors, who also will enjoy the new “Shark & Ray Touch Pool” that opened as part of the Aquarium’s recent $4.5 million “FINtastic RefurbFISHment.” The hands-on display lets visitors run their fingers gently down the backs of several species of sharks and rays. Other displays show shark and skate babies before and after they’re born, and information about why shark populations are dropping.

Jack Schneider, the Aquarium’s curator of animals, pointed out that the Aquarium also displays other creatures with unusual colorations because of genetic abnormalities. Most notably, he said, is an exhibit of three special lobsters – one is blue, one is calico and the third is orange. (Albino lobsters exist but are even rarer than the unusually colored crustaceans.)

For more details about Maritime Aquarium exhibits and IMAX movies this summer, call (203) 852-0700 or go to www.maritimeaquarium.org.

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