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 on social media:
You may also like:
Top-Viewed Posts Last 30 Days
- POLL: Should the cruel sport of bullfighting be banned? [2799 Views]
- POLL: Should South Africa’s canned hunting industry be banned? [1883 Views]
- POLL: Should Mozambique’s wildlife park be funded by trophy hunting? [1392 Views]
- POLL: Should the use of elephants for “entertainment” be banned? [1217 Views]
- POLL: Should Asia’s elephant tourism be banned? [968 Views]
- Bald Eagle Adopts Baby Hawk Instead of Eating Him [911 Views]
- POLL: Should wildlife-killing “cyanide bombs” be banned? [897 Views]
- POLL: Should the use of wild animals in circuses be banned? [880 Views]
- POLL: Should Yellowstone Grizzlies be removed from the Endangered List? [859 Views]
- POLL: Should the owning of exotic pets be banned? [745 Views]
Top-Viewed Posts Last 12 Months
- POLL: Should there be a worldwide ban on fur farms? [16900 Views]
- POLL: Should Congress disband Wildlife “Killing” Services? [11095 Views]
- Gray Squirrels versus Red Squirrels – The Facts [10111 Views]
- POLL: Should driven grouse-shooting be banned? [8689 Views]
- POLL: Should grouse shooting on highland estates be banned? [8233 Views]
- POLL: Should the killing of giraffes be outlawed? [4711 Views]
- POLL: Should the sale of elephant ivory be legalized? [4081 Views]
- POLL: Should foxes be culled to protect domestic pets? [3771 Views]
- POLL: Should the coyote continue to be exterminated? [3448 Views]
- POLL: Should the use of snares be banned in the UK? [2609 Views]