March 7, 2008

White Killer Whale Spotted Near Alaska Coast

A white killer whale was spotted last month for the first time in Alaska since 2001. The whale, sighted by scientists aboard the Oscar Dyson, was in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Holly Fearnbach, a research biologist with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, photographed the almost mythic whale. She claimed that although she had heard of the whale, she had never seen one. "It was quite neat to find it."

When the whale appeared, the Oscar Dyson's crew was conducting an acoustic survey of Pollock near Stellar sea lion haul out sites. The creature had been spotted in the area before, in 1993 and in 2001, but never since. Whales are spotted in this region frequently, although they are generally the classic black and white whales.

This one, according to Fearnbach, stood out. She claimed that it was incredibly white on first glance, but once further observed, the whale's saddle was the whitest part while other parts of its body were yellow to brown.

The ship stayed with the whale for nearly 30 minutes upon the first sighting on February 23, and the scientists continued to observe it over 14 days. It was in a family group of 12 in rough waters when it was spotted. The whale appeared to weigh more than 5 tons, and was an adult male, about 25 to 30 feet long.

John Durban, a research biologist at NOAA'S Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle believes that it is not a true albino, due to its coloration. This may be a good thing due to the fact that albinos often have health problems. The entire crew was thrilled about the finding; everyone was running to grab their cameras to get a good shot of the rare phenomenon.


On the Net:

National Marine Mammal Laboratory

NOAA'S Alaska Fisheries Science Center