Witnessing an orca in its natural habitat along the west coast is always an incredible experience, but for one Vancouver Islander, a recent sighting was extra special.
Paul Pudwell, the owner and operator of Sooke Coastal Explorations, managed to capture photos of a rare white orca swimming in the ocean off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island on Tuesday.
Pudwell says the orca is known as T046B1B to scientists, but also goes by Tl’uk.
Tl’uk comes from the Coast Salish Halq’eméylem word for ‘moon.’ It is estimated to be about two years old.
The young orca is a member of the T46B Bigg’s (transient) killer whale family, which feeds on marine mammals like seals and sea lions.
There have been a handful of sightings over the last couple years of the rare white orca and the first instinct is to link the whale’s colour to albinism.
Researchers, however, point to other possible reasons for the white pigment as albinos are typically all white and have no pigment in their eyes.
According to biologists, Tl’uk may have a condition called leucism, a condition that results in partial loss of pigmentation, which causes white, pale, or patchy skin colouration, but doesn’t affect the eyes…He could also be affected with Chediak-Higashi syndrome, a genetic condition that causes partial albinism as well as a number of medical complications, but researchers would have to look into the condition further.
Marine biologists have a difficult time making definitive conclusions about white orcas because there are so few – this means there isn’t a lot of information about them. Marine experts have highlighted that only about 10 white orcas have been recorded in history.
According to Pudwell, he was the first to spot this rare white orca off the coast of Sooke back in November 2018.
Below photos are courtesy of Paul Pudwell: