“It’s a moment for celebration. It’s a strikingly beautiful animal!!”
On a sparkling summer morning in 2010, a group of Russian scientists working near the Kamchatka Peninsula spied a giant swimming ghost: an exceedingly rare, all-white killer whale, diving and surfacing as part of an ordinary orca pod. “It was startling to see this 2-meter-high white dorsal fin shooting up among the other killer whales,” said Erich Hoyt, who oversees the Russian whale-research group that announced the 2-year-old sighting this week by releasing photographs and video. “It takes your breath away.” … Hoyt agreed Tuesday that the Russian whale, his team has nicknamed “Iceberg”, may well be the same creature that made those appearances in Alaska… It’s really 50-50 at this point.”
The discovery of Iceberg near the Bering Sea’s Commander Islands is making news around the globe this week, with many reports characterizing him as the first documented male albino orca to survive to adulthood. But Hoyt and other marine biologists say it’s not clear whether Iceberg is albino, or if the cetacean is just somehow genetically different from its peers. That’s one of the many questions that Hoyt, co-director of the Far East Russia Orca Project and an internationally acclaimed whale biologist, hopes to answer when his team returns to Russian waters this spring…
Documented sightings of albino marine mammals are scarce… Perhaps the most famous example was Chimo, known as T4, a young female orca captured in British Columbia in 1970 and displayed for two years at a Victoria, B.C., aquarium. When Chimo died, researchers found the whale suffered from Chediak-Higashi syndrome, an immune disorder that dilutes pigmentation. It kills mammals before adulthood… No one can say how many white orcas there are. The distance between the Aleutians and Russia is nothing for whales that most likely travel between the North Pacific and Hawaii, Hoyt said… In fact, part of the reason it took Hoyt’s team nearly two years to release images is that researchers wanted first to get more information… * When they return to the islands in the next few weeks, they hope to have better luck.* In fact, they hope to look Iceberg in the eye. A pink hue would suggest he’s a true albino. If nothing else, Hoyt said, his team hopes to see and take more pictures of this mystical-looking creature that people already seem to be identifying with as a symbol of wild nature.
“Killer whales are so starkly black that when you see an all-white one it’s pretty amazing,” Hoyt said. “It’s a moment for celebration. It’s a strikingly beautiful animal!!” Either way, Hoyt’s team had other news, too. Iceberg wasn’t the only oddly coloured whale they saw. They saw two young mottled-white whale calves, which suggest Iceberg was healthy enough to father offspring…by Craig Welch Seattle Times environment reporter.
Link – The Seattle times http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2018062072_whitewhale25m.html?prmid=4939