On a summer morning in 2010, off the coast of Kamchatka in eastern Russia, scientists made a rare discovery. Photos, released earlier this week (and posted on our Retina Tumblr blog) document what may be the first verified sighting of its kind: an all-white adult orca whale. Also known as “killer whales,” orcas are typically a mix of black and white. White members of several other whale species have been seen previously, but so far, the only known white orcas have been young.
This one, nicknamed “Iceberg” by the researchers, sports a six-foot-tall dorsal fin, indicating that it is an adult. The scientists, led by Erich Hoyt of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, are are unsure why this whale has such unusual pigmentation. Although it is mostly white in color, it may not qualify as albino due to some color in the area behind the dorsal fin. One previously known young albino orca, a resident of a Canadian aquarium named Chima, suffered from a rare genetic condition that caused a number of medical complications, but Iceberg appears to be a healthy member of its pod.