Scientists have made what they believe to be the first sighting of an adult white orca, or killer whale. The adult male, which they have nicknamed Iceberg, was spotted off the coast of Kamchatka in eastern Russia. It appears to be healthy and leading a normal life in its pod.
White whales of various species are occasionally seen; but the only known white orcas have been young, including one with a rare genetic condition that died in a Canadian aquarium in 1972.
The sightings were made during a research cruise off Kamchatka by a group of Russian scientists and students, co-led by Erich Hoyt, the long-time orca scientist, conservationist and author who is now a senior research fellow with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS).
“We’ve seen another two white orcas in Russia but they’ve been young, whereas this is the first time we’ve seen a mature adult,” he told BBC News. “It has the full two-metre-high dorsal fin of a mature male, which means it’s at least 16 years old – in fact the fin is somewhat ragged, so it might be a bit older.”
Orcas mature around the age of 15, and males can live to 50 or 60 years old, though 30 is more commonplace. “Iceberg seems to be fully socialised; 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 Dr Hoyt.
The cause of his unusual pigmentation is not known. The captive white orca, Chima, suffered from Chediak-Higashi syndrome, a genetic condition that causes partial albinism as well as a number of medical complications. It is possible that an attempt may be made to take a biopsy from Iceberg; but with researchers reluctant to do so unless there is a compelling conservation reason, they are hoping instead for closer observations including a detection of eye colour.
The project Dr Hoyt co-leads, the Far East Russia Orca Project, has pioneered visual and acoustic monitoring in the inhospitable Kamchatka seas, and has produced a number of papers on the communication of killer whales. This may lead to improved understanding of the animals’ complex social structure, which includes matrilineal family clans, pods consisting of several families, and much larger “super-pods”.
A related project aims to study and conserve habitat for all whales and dolphins around the Russian coast. In recent years a white humpback whale nick-named Migaloo has drawn intense interest in Australia, while the Arctic beluga is naturally white. The most famous white whale, though, is the fictional sperm whale that drove Captain Ahab to his eventually fatal fury in Moby Dick.
This article was written by Richard Black Environment correspondent, BBC News
Share this post with your friends
You may also like:
Top-Viewed Posts Last 30 Days
- POLL: Should hunting with hounds be banned? – [7266 Views]
- POLL: Should the trophy hunting of bears and wolves be banned? – [3191 Views]
- POLL: Should the slaughter of badgers in the UK be finally stopped? – [2945 Views]
- POLL: Should trophy hunting in Kyrgystan be banned? – [1716 Views]
- POLL: Should SeaWorld be closed down? – [1520 Views]
- POLL: Should Japan be sanctioned for continuing to slaughter whales? – [1115 Views]
- POLL: Should Yellowstone’s Iconic Grizzly Bears be Stripped of Federal Protection? – [1013 Views]
- POLL: Should roadside zoos be closed down? – [976 Views]
- Karma? Another Trophy Hunter Has Been Killed by an Elephant [859 Views]
- POLL: Should we prevent our cats from killing birds? – [813 Views]
Top-Viewed Posts Last 12 Months
- Gray Squirrels versus Red Squirrels – The Facts [7976 Views]
- POLL: Should foxes be culled to protect domestic pets? [3799 Views]
- POLL: Should the cruel sport of bullfighting be banned? [2873 Views]
- POLL: Should Canada ban the hunting of seals? [2667 Views]
- POLL: Should the Tories be allowed to bring back fox hunting? [2578 Views]
- POLL: Should wild elephants be sold to Chinese zoos? [2322 Views]
- POLL: Should Japan be sanctioned for slaughtering Minke whales? [2289 Views]
- POLL: Should all tiger farms in China be closed down? [2081 Views]
- POLL: Should the export of elephants to China be banned? [2068 Views]
- POLL: Should there be a worldwide ban on fur farming? [2028 Views]