An adult white orca has been spotted by scientists for what they believe is the first time in the wild, off the coast of Kamchatka in eastern Russia. The killer whale, nicknamed Iceberg, was spotted by researchers of the Far East Russia Orca Project (FEROP). It is a healthy adult whale, estimated to be at least 16 years old (but potentially older due to the scarring on its full two-metre-high dorsal fin), living in a pod with 12 relatives.
The BBC has an interview with the lead researcher, Erich Hoyt, who is a “long-time orca scientist, conservationist and author who is now a senior research fellow with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS)“. The cause of the unusual pigmentation is unknown, and the researchers are hesitant to take a biopsy from Iceberg, as they do not want to disrupt Iceberg’s pod or Iceberg himself more than they need to. They would like to get a closer examination of Iceberg’s eye colour, to see if he is a true albino, or if some other genetic factor is involved. More pictures of Iceberg can be found on Wired.
I’ve seen a pod of orcas on my recent trip to Vancouver, and they are truly marvellous creatures. Very difficult to snap a photo of, as you don’t know where they’ll surface, and when they do, it is only briefly. I managed to capture this image on my phone, so not the greatest quality, but still amazing to see. The calm waters and blue skies really enhanced the moment.
I was exceptionally lucky on my whale spotting trip, as not only did we see a wonderful pod of orcas, we also saw a massive humpback whale. What was especially impressive with the humpback whale was that it was showing off, by breaching multiple times out of the water, and by slapping it’s fins and tail against the surface of the water. It was an absolutely breathtaking display, and according to our guide, the best whale spotting trip they’ve ever had in 5 years of operations.
Iceberg is a rarity, and a magnificent discovery. Whales are phenomenal creatures, with amazing minds and complex social ties, and definitely deserve to be looked after. Onwards!