All-White Killer Whale Filmed Off Russian Coast [Video]
Albinism and leucism have produced white whales from several species before, but this is a world first: an all-white, adult killer whale bull.
This majestic whale, aptly named "Iceberg," was recently spotted off the coast of Kamchatka in eastern Russia by a group of scientists co-led by Erich Hoyt, the world-renowned orca expert. The whale appears to be a healthy, thriving member of its pod despite its rare condition.
Only two other white orcas have ever been seen in the wild before, but they were both young individuals and didn't survive into adulthood, Hoyt told BBC News. One reason that a fully mature white orca is so rare is that albinism in these whales is usually accompanied by a weakened immune system. Though researchers have yet to confirm whether Iceberg's white complexion is due to albinism, the good news is that he appears to be doing just fine.
Iceberg is estimated to be at least around 16 years old, and possibly a bit older, given the size of his dorsal fin. Orcas typically reach maturity by 15 years of age, and can live as long as 50 or 60 years.
"Iceberg seems to be fully socialized; we know that these fish-eating orcas stay with their mothers for life, and as far as we can see he's right behind his mother with presumably his brothers next to him," said Hoyt.
Researchers also hope that Iceberg's rare condition will help to raise awareness about the growing need for protected marine reserves worldwide. Though the area where Iceberg was first seen is already part of Russia’s largest marine reserve, discussions are currently underway to expand it. Given the vast amount of territory that orcas can traverse on a daily basis, a network of reserves is necessary to ensure that these animals are protected.
“In many ways, Iceberg is a symbol of all that is pure, wild and extraordinarily exciting about what is out there in the ocean waiting to be discovered,” wrote Erich Hoyt, in a recent press release. “The challenge is to keep the ocean healthy so that such surprises are always possible.”
You can read more about Iceberg and many of the other orcas being studied by Hoyt's team at russianorca.org.
Header image via slatester/Youtube