WILL BYERS | Photography | Portland, Maine


Will Byers is a photographer and writer based in Portland, Maine. Here is a growing record of as many far-flung things as he can manage to put accurately and articulately. Music videos. Sweet links.

White Lobster, Cocaine and Leucism

Everything Is Connected

On August 24, 2017, a Chebeague Islander (in the Casco Bay of Maine) named Alex Todd found a rarity while checking his lobster pots. The 48-year-old lobsterman, no stranger to having his story told, had pulled aboard an iridescent, white lobster - a female with a notched tail.

Alex snapped a photo, showed the bug to his folks, and set it free back in the ocean. She was V-notched on her tail, and Alex is an upright guy, so he abided the mandatory practice of returning females with such a mark. 

Since 1917, Mainers have notched tails of females found carrying eggs, to keep the population stable. As the lobster grows, it keeps the notch in its exoskeleton, forever sparing it from hungry people, well, everywhere, nowadays. 

Alex did well because lobsters are declining in the Gulf of Maine, and the difficult-to-enforce practice of preserving egg-bearing females has been declining also. For now, annual harvests total several hundreds of millions of dollars.

Modern lobstering has been in a lucrative sweet spot with the increasingly warm water temps diminishing predators, but now the water has warmed to the point where lobsters are swimming to chillier places. To lose lobsters would be a tough blow to Maine, having already lost many industrial jobs, but it's far more sad to think of Maine losing such a big piece of its identity.

But then again, the war would finally be over.

But then again, the war would finally be over.

Meanwhile in Nicaragua...

Over 2,000 miles away, on the Miskito Coast of the South Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, fishermen are hauling in another kind of bounty from the sea.

Some background: The Creole and indigenous population there is isolated from central America by jungle, and so residents of the Miskito Coast feel more kindred with their Caribbean neighbors across the sea than with the other citizens of Nicaragua. Bluefields is the capital and home of about 90,000 people. Electricity is sporadic, roads are rough, and there isn't much work. Subsistence fishing is one of the more common daily priorities, but they also keep an eye out for their own lucrative harvest.

The Devil's Dandruff


Residents of Bluefields and various coastal villages often wake up early and scan the horizon for la langosta blanca. The elusive white lobster, in Nicaragua, is cocaine.

When smugglers traveling up the "country road" by sea from Colombia are confronted by law enforcement, they dump their drugs and run. Bales of cocaine often drift in the currents to the various lagoons, beaches and cays up and down the Miskito Coast.

Lucky fishers retrieve these bales - sometimes weighing 35 kg, sometimes much, much more - and trade it back to Colombian traffickers who peruse the villages for about $4,000 per kilo. This is well below the going rate, but a lot of cash, nonetheless.

Traffickers are intertwined in the economy in other ways as well, and though it is not a well-loved presence, it is considered to be a presence that provides.

The Miskito Coast is cut-off from the rest of Nicaragua in more than one way. There isn't much infrastructure, nothing that will really attract investors, anyway. As well, the indigenous and Creole population have a complicated past with the central government, and as autonomous coastal regions do not receive much support. Here, as in Maine, lobster is king.

Piebald zebra. Also,  zebras dgaf .

Piebald zebra. Also, zebras dgaf.

Wait, why was the actual lobster white, though?

The white lobster that Alex Todd caught was not albino, it was leucistic. Leucism is a genetic condition, like albinism, but only results in a partial loss of melanin pigmentation. 

The easiest distinction between the two is found in the eyes. Albino eyes are totally devoid of melanin, and appear red due to retinal blood vessels. Leucistic eyes are often blue, from light refraction.

Leucism can also be partial, resulting in what's known as piebald. Piebald animals have an unpredictable pattern of pigmentation that can create an even more striking appearance.

Both albinism and leucism can make it difficult for certain animals to survive in the wild, where camouflage either helps you get your next meal, or keeps you from becoming one. Eyesight is poorer, feathers are weaker, and chances of mating can be lowered.

Both conditions happen to all kinds of critters, even humans.

White gators at Gatorland, Florida or white giraffes in Kenya or "spirit bears" in British Columbia.

It doesn't matter so much to our leucistic crustacean cruising Casco Bay, though. You can tell she's leucistic due to the hints of blue still visible on her shell, and color in her eyes. There's an outside chance a seal might make a snack of her, but, otherwise, her white shell probably won't stop her from eating mollusks until she's too huge to molt anymore.



This brings us to Brevard, North Carolina, my hometown of beer, bikes, barbecue, and banjos. There I grew up thinking it was perfectly normal to spot white squirrels prancing around.

They are neither albino nor leucistic, however. They're simply an Eastern Gray Squirrel with a coat color variant, albeit rare.

There are a few albino and leucistic colonies spread throughout the country, but none as numerous as ours. Brevard’s squirrel population, with almost one in three white, has the highest percent white of any known colony, with approximately a thousand individuals within the city limits. 


They're protected by law, but I guess there's some wiggle room for the ones that insist on being run over. So in this case, they can't be harvested, they aren't valuable on the black market, and they get filthy after a good rain, but the amount of tourism dollars they draw is nuts.

So you see, it really is ALL connected. That's what we learned today, in this nuanced, meaningful discourse. 

What's your evidence it's all connected?