Photo courtesy of Bill Bouton
The first ever sighting of an all white adult Killer Whale was made recently off the coast of Kamchatka in the east of Russia.
Orcas (Orcinus orca), also known as killer whales, are toothed whales that are a member of the oceanic dolphin family, Delphinidae. Killer whales are found in all oceans and have a diet of fish species and marine mammals such as sea lions and seals.
A Killer whales colouring is usually mostly black with a white under belly and white circles around their eyes. This unusual Snowy white Orca is the first ever sighting of a white adult Killer whale and has been given a very fitting name - Iceberg.
This discovery was made by a team of Russian Scientists and students, during a research trip off the coast of eastern Russia, co-led by Erich Hoyt who has studied Orcas for a long time and is now a senior research fellow with the whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. Erich Hoyt, during his vast amount of experience in working with Orcas has previously seen two young white orcas; however, has never before seen a white adult killer whale.
The cause of this unusual colouring in Iceberg is not currently known; however, in 1970 a white orca kept in captivity was diagnosed with Chediak-Higashi syndrome (CHS) soon after its death. CHS is a rare disorder which causes a variety of medical conditions as well as partial albinism. Scientists currently want to determine whether or not Iceberg has albinism. Albinism is a genetic condition that leaves animals unable to produce a dark pigment in the skin, hair and eyes, called melanin. However; many albino animals never grow into adulthood as their visibility causes a disadvantage during hunting. With CHS and Albinism, Icebergs chances of survival to adulthood would have been slim however; Iceberg has been estimated at being roughly 16 years old, possibly older, as his dorsal fin is about 2m high. Killer whales reach maturity at 15 so Iceberg has already reached adulthood.
It may be possible to take a biopsy from iceberg to determine exactly what has caused this unusual colouring; however, researchers are unenthusiastic about this procedure unless it is for conservation purposes.
By Laura Ireson