April 24, 2012
White Adult Killer Whale Spotted Off Coast Of Russia
Jason Farmer for RedOrbit.com
Scientists believe they have made the very first sighting of an adult white killer whale, according to various media reports.
The adult male was spotted off the coast of Kamchatka in eastern Russia. Scientists have nicknamed the whale Iceberg.
The whale appears to be in good health and is living with a normal pod.
Occasionally, white whales of other species are seen, but prior to this sighting, the only known white orcas have been young.
The sighting of the white whale was made by a group of Russian scientists and students, co-led by Dr Erich Hoyt, a long-time orca researcher.
“It has the full two-meter-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,” Hoyt told BBC News reporter Richard Black.
Adult male orcas can live up to 50 or 60 years, though 30 years old is more the average.
“Iceberg seems to be fully socialized; 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,” Dr Hoyt told Black.
Researchers are unsure of the cause of the whale´s unusual pigmentation, so an attempt may be made to take a biopsy from Iceberg. However, they are reluctant to do so without a compelling conservation reason. Instead, they hope to make even closer observations of the whale in its environment.
The visual and acoustic monitoring technology pioneered by Dr Hoyt and his team have shed much light on the communication of killer whales, and will likely lead to a greater understanding of the animals´ complex social structure, which includes pods consisting of multiple families, and even larger “super-pods”.
A related project is aiming to study and conserve the habitat for all whales and dolphins around the Russian coast.
Read Hoyt's blog about the sighting.