Rare White Orca Sighted Off Russian Coast

Researchers tracking whales off the coast of Russia sighted, and were able to film, one of the rarest of all cetaceans: a juvenile white orca, an animal that has only been observed a handful of times in the wild.

The scientists were engaged in research for the Far East Russia Orca Project (FEROP) when they spotted the whale, according to the Daily Mail. The team was operating off the southeastern coast of Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula and the Northern Kuril Islands, surveying the area as part of a project focused on humpback whales, when the sighting occurred. Orcas have previously been sighted in the region, yet few have been so rare.

Obscured by fog, the juvenile orca approached the boat, raising its white dorsal fin above the surface. While the animal was only sighted for a short time, Erich Hoyt, co-director of FEROP, was quick enough to film the encounter, IFLScience notes. The team had previously been filming a large pod of orcas that had appeared in the area, a strait between the peninsula and island.

“Suddenly a group of orcas approached us, and right next to the boat, a white orca surfaced,” The team related. “It was not the famous Iceberg, but a small white orca, likely a juvenile. We soon lost the whale in the fog, but the image was fixed in our mind and in this short piece of video. We hope to meet more white orcas next year.”

http://t.co/4DDtjtYHqv White orca in the pod, Kamchatka peninsula off the far eastern coast of Russia. pic.twitter.com/Hq17Wpx3oy — Matt Brady (@MatthewBrady036) September 20, 2014

Sightings of white orcas are so rare that only one adult has ever been documented in the wild, as The Inquisitr previously noted. Nicknamed “Iceberg,” that particular orca was spotted in 2012, also by a team of Russian scientists. Sighted in the same area, it was the first adult white orca to be observed by researchers.

“We have seen one female we call Mama Tanya; a calf; Iceberg the mature male; and now this juvenile,” Hoyt said. “Four white orcas in all over the past seven to eight years.”

While it has yet to be confirmed by scientists, some believe that the white pigmentation of some whales could be caused by albinism. The congenital defect has been suggested as the cause for other white whales, like Migaloo, a humpback that frequently appears off the coast of Australia, although it is unclear if it could be responsible for white orcas.

[Image: FEROP via Towleroad]