A rare pale-grey killer whale was spotted off the coast of Vancouver Island on Tuesday.
Nanaimo-based Vancouver Island Whale Watch posted a picture of the young orca in Dodds Narrows on Tuesday. The orca is a member of the T46B Bigg’s killer whale family, which has a range from Washington state to Alaska.
“A WHITE orca, spotted five minutes from Nanaimo!! Wild day out on the water today finding an incredibly unique and unusually coloured calf (T46B1B)!,” the company wrote on its Facebook page.
Jared Towers, a killer whale researcher with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said the whale was born sometime last fall, between September and the end of November.
“At that time, we didn’t get enough photos of it to verify that it actually had this condition of its skin that makes it appear much less dark than a usual killer whale so it wasn’t again until May 17 when this whale was photographed and at that time, it was really quite obvious that it was pale,” Towers said.
Towers said the orca most likely has a condition called leucism, a partial loss of pigmentation.
“If you look at the photos, you can still see that the animal has a light eye patch and saddle detail but all the parts on his body that are supposed to be black are kind of a greyish colour so it somewhat rules out that this animal is a true albino,” Towers said.
“Albinos are typically all white and in addition to that, they have no pigment in their eyes.”
Towers added that it is possible that the orca could be affected with Chediak-Higashi syndrome, a genetic condition that causes partial albinism as well as a number of medical complications, but it would have to be looked at further.
According to Towers, records of white killer whales have been recorded in B.C. for around 100 years.
“Some killer whales that we’ve seen over the years here in B.C. have been born like this individual has, quite milky in colouration and overtime they lose that and grow up as black and white like normal killer whales,” Towers said.
“All the white killer whales we’ve seen in this part of the world have all been Bigg’s killer whales.”
Bigg’s killer whales are also known as transients. They primarily eat marine mammals and squid.
Towers said researchers will keep monitoring this pale orca by taking photographs.