At one point, in Isla Vista there were two or more albino raccoons. They are secretive creatures that may seem like ghostly apparitions in the many less urban portions of the town. You may have seen them feeding at dusk in the water of the park.
Seeing one is a cause for excitement, celebration, and speculation.
You can add your sightings and more details to this page...
Raccoons - Myth and Folklore
Raccoons have had a strong symbolic and cultural significance to those inhabiting Isla Vista prior to UCSB students and staff. In North American tribes, raccoons are perceived as tricksters and are particularly common in light-hearted tales aimed at children. Raccoons are most commonly portrayed as a mischief makers - depicted as general pranksters that use their cunning abilities to obtain what they desire and often outwit other animals. Raccoons were not formerly treated as fearsome creatures, but have come to be seen as ‘animals of evil’, given their wearing of a ‘mask’ and their abilities to transform themselves. Other tribal mythology focuses on raccoons using their cleverness and dexterity to acquire food and escape dangerous situations cunningly. Furthermore, it appears that modern humans have formulated a new disdain for raccoons - far from that of previous sentiments of respect and veneration.
Azeban is known in Abenaki Native American folklore as a trickster raccoon that is depicted as mischievous and foolish. Though mischievous and foolish, his intentions are never malicious. Azeban uses his trickery for acquiring food and accomplishing other small deeds. In another context, Rocket the Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy is introduced to the audience as a slick bounty hunter who occasionally steals but is however lovable and loyal to his friends.
The Micmac Native American legend tells the tale of how the raccoon got its markings around its eyes and tail. A mischievous raccoon stumbled upon two men who were blind and unhappy discussing their misfortune to a man named Kluskap. Kluskap helped these men by providing them with a dome-shaped hut and a rope tied to a bucket so that they may fetch water without having to stray from their humble abode. The raccoon took it upon himself to mess with the men and revel in their distress. One blind man went to fetch water but the raccoon moved the bucket from the water to the sand and the men got to arguing about the lack of water. The other blind man accused the first of being lazy and not walking out far enough to fetch water and took the bucket from the sand and fetched water without the raccoon’s interference. The men began to fight. Later when the men were cooking supper, the raccoon snuck in and took two of the four pieces of meat and watched the argument unfold after the second man went to grab meat and found himself without any. The first blind man explained that he had cooked four pieces and took two for himself leaving two for him. Kluskap arrived to find them fighting and then men explained each side of their story. Kluskap looked around and immediately knew the culprit was the raccoon, who he saw rolling in laughter on the ground. Kluskap took a coal, marking two black circles around the raccoon’s eyes “This is for the two pieces of meat you stole from the two blind men. You will always have the mark of a thief.” He then took the coal and drew four rings around the raccoon’s tail saying “This is for making the men fight. And you will remember, because now I have marked you and it will stay with you wherever you go.” Folklore stories like the Micmac Native American legend help to provide cultural context for the understanding of raccoons.
Albino Animals - Myth and Folklore
White animals in mythology tend to symbolize peace, innocence, spirituality and the concept of light. Albino animals had spiritual connections and were seen as omens of wisdom and light. Among Native American beliefs and traditions, it is seen as taboo to kill any albino animal and it may carry serious consequences. The taboo related to this is the fact that albino animals are easier to kill making it an unfair fight.
Etymology and Local Specific Knowledge
The relationship between raccoons and their environment has changed over the years as human dispersal has increased throughout America. The term raccoon is derived from the same Native American group that Pocahontas came from, the Powhatan, from as early as 1600. In their native language, the term arahkunem means “he scratches with hands.” However Captain John Smith himself recorded the term raughroughcum to describe them. Another point of etymology comes from Norway as vaskebjorn - which translates literally to “wash-bear.” Clearly 400 years ago there was a salient reoccurrence of experiencing a raccoon in its natural environment washing or scratching its paws. This etymology is helpful in understanding prior human association with this animal and can lead to a deeper understanding of the characteristics of the albino raccoon.
In an attempt to discover how local people today think about raccoons in general, we asked a sample of UCSB students and alumni some basic questions regarding raccoons - and the albino raccoon specifically. It is clear that within the small community of Isla Vista, there is a local specific knowledge surrounding the albino raccoon that inhabits the area. Upon asking word associations with the word "raccoon," answers ranged from bandit, cat, whiskers, to evil. Furthermore, local experiences with raccoons echoed dumpster diving instances, terrorizing pets, and stealing their dog food. In a human culture that divides “good animals” and “bad animals,” it is no surprise that raccoons are labeled as a pest. Domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, and horses are shielded by their submissive behavior. Wild birds, fish, and squirrels are not necessarily deemed a threat given that they generally mind their own business. However species such as rats, mosquitos, and raccoons are culturally deemed a nuisance because they take from or disrupt humans. The albino raccoon, however, possesses a different reputation among those living in Isla Vista. Given that it has a mythical presence, it is seemingly exempt from disdain.
Context and Internet Presence
The albino raccoon became famous in 2006-2007 mostly through word of mouth but also Facebook groups. At that time, Facebook group names were prominently displayed on your profile and often used as an expression of interests (and pages didn't exist yet), and it was sort of a novelty for news and rumors to fly fast online in a community. Facebook had only expanded to UCSB in fall 2004. (For more about Facebook profiles changing over the past ten years, this article has screenshots.)
Most of the Facebook groups got deleted when Facebook changed how groups work in 2010-11, but I Came Face To Face With the Legendary Albino Raccoon of Iv still exists.
Today, the albino raccoon writes a column for WORD Magazine. In 2012 they built a "10-foot tall albino raccoon out of cardboard" for an event (a photo and another photo). The second year of the event included free face painting "to transform festival goers into puppies, fire creatures and, of course, the magazine’s mascot: albino raccoons".
Influence and Mythical Presence
As briefly mentioned above, at UCSB, the albino raccoon has been established as the mascot for WORD magazine, a campus publication focusing on Isla Vista arts and culture. This began in 2008, and now the rant column featured in every issue is titled the “Albino Raccoon.” There was also a cartoon featured in the magazine in 2013 and 2014 called The Misadventures of Finch and Polaris, featuring Polaris the albino raccoon.
In 2007, the raccoon was spotted on Segovia by the art advisor of WORD magazine. It was near a dumpster and was larger than other raccoons. From then on, the story of the sighting has been passed down orally through other students involved in the magazine. The raccoon continues to be featured in WORD magazine, and has been for nine years. The magazine features all things relevant to IV culture, reaffirming the idea that the raccoon is a novelty IV character.
Oral tradition continues to be spread regarding the albino raccoon in Isla Vista. ‘Redbubble’ is a retail website where individual artists can sell merchandise with their own images on them. The user ‘Mchamberlain98’, who has been on Redbubble since April 2016, sells merchandise with the albino raccoon pictured (see Figure below). The tshirt displays the albino raccoon as a symbol of Isla Vista, with a red solo cup in hand. The t shirt design supports the idea that the albino raccoon is part of the IV community.
Sightings and photos
Katie, a blogger, who writes a blog titled ‘Run Now Wine Later’ lists her best memories at UCSB. One memory she cherishes is spotting the albino raccoon (Figure 2). She captioned the photo “Finally spotting the ALBINO RACCOON!! An Isla Vista legend”. Katie describes the raccoon as an ‘Isla Vista legend’ and perpetuates the significance of the raccoon.
- September 2012 near IV - "There was a famed Albino Raccoon in Isla Vista some year's back. His/her DNA is still in the gene pool, apparently. These were taken earlier this evening (09/09/2012) near Isla Vista."
- September 29, 2012 - "the albino raccoon & friends"
- September 2014 in IV - "The legendary Albino Raccon is back! A fortunate resident was able to snap some pictures, along with a vid. This is GREAT NEWS for our little IV Mascot. Long Live the Albino Raccoon!"
Demise and afterlife
From the Nexus article in April 2007 that covered the death in detail: "Isla Vista’s illustrious albino raccoon is dead, and as hundreds of local residents mourn his untimely passing, the responsible canine is still at large. With four raccoon kills already on his list, Cody the dog fought the albino raccoon last Thursday night, eventually choking and suffocating it. The white masked bandit, who has no official name and whose sex is still undetermined, finally came to rest on the cold pavement of Del Playa Drive. Saying that the albino raccoon was a bit of a local celebrity is an understatement. Nearly 400 UCSB students belong to a Facebook group titled “I came face to face with the legendary albino raccoon of I.V.” and passersby can almost always hear elated survivors boast of brave raccoon encounters over a beer at Sam’s To Go, in residence hall lounges or in lecture." The article goes on to describe another Facebook group about the raccoon, "RIP Great White: An albino I.V. legend".
A few responses to that article in the Nexus, also in April 2007: "Irresponsible Owners Need to Control Rowdy Canine", "Pet Owner Defends Cody the Dog in I.V. Raccoon Skirmish", "Raccoon’s Death Shocks, Saddens Isla Vista Resident", "New Albino Critter Roams the Wild Streets of I.V.".
From a Nexus article in August 2007 about local stories and folklore: "On the sunny April morning of Friday the 13th, I.V.’s most celebrated resident was found dead on the pavement of Del Playa Drive, apparently mauled to death by Cody, a local domestic canine. The Albino Raccoon of Isla Vista – a.k.a. “Great White,” “Albert” and “The Baby Polar Bear” – was, for many years, a highly esteemed member of the I.V. community. Many an Isla Vista resident can boast of a Friday or Saturday night encounter with the legendary mammal, whose notoriety is so profound that it has inspired the creation of at least seven Facebook groups. Controversy and mystery continue to surround the untimely passing of our majestic neighbor. It is rumored that its body was stolen and taken to a taxidermist, so that its earthly essence might continue to be revered by future generations. More mysterious still are allegations of continued “Great White” sightings by I.V. residents. Vengeful offspring, perhaps?"
In the Nexus in October 2007: "Could Great White’s alleged death really be a cover-up for something far more sinister? Like all journalists of integrity, I turned to Facebook for the answer. A simple search of the words “albino raccoon” reveals seven groups dedicated to our pink-eyed pal, and almost all of them include accounts of recent sightings. One group, “The Albino Raccoon is STILL ALIVE!” is dedicated specifically to post-mortem encounters. Wall posts on the group, “RIP Great White: An Albino I.V. Legend”, place the allegedly dead raccoon on Trigo as recently as July 30."
From The Independent in January 2008, reviewing 2007 in IV: "In wildlife news, I.V.’s albino raccoon passed away - only to be succeeded by a series of sightings of what some students say could be his extra-pale spirit, and others believe to be a brood of albino raccoon offspring."
Then, from The Independent in February 2008: "One legendary inhabitant of Isla Vista, thought to be dead, has now been spotted in spectral form - and the legend lives on. I refer, of course, to the fabled albino raccoon of I.V., whose appearances, even while alive, were always something of an event...According to a Daily Nexus article, one way of passing an idle hour in the evening, for some students, was to go hunting for the raccoon, simply to be able to say that they had seen it in the pale, ghostly flesh...And then the seemingly impossible occurred. The Albino Raccoon is STILL ALIVE!, a Facebook group, is composed of Isla Vista residents who are convinced that the raccoon or its shade is still among us."