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Rare white killer whale in Alaska

A white killer whale was spotted off the coast of Southeast Alaska earlier this month by researchers on a charter boat. The rare whale was swimming amongst a pod of fellow orcas and stood out immediately from the crowd. Killer whales are usually black an white, but this particular whale was solid white — an extremely rare occurrence.

It’s so rare that Dennis Rogers, the captain of the ship, said it was the first white killer whale he has ever seen in his 45-plus years of sailing the waters of southeast Alaska. Rogers even got a second look at the whale a few days later from his window overlooking the ocean in Petersburg. As before, the whale was swimming with its pod.

Stephanie Hayes, a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the first mate on the boat, said in a press release, “There have only been about eight white killer whales ever recorded in the world. To have one in Southeast was an incredible phenomenon.”

The rare whale is thought to have a condition called leucism, a DNA mutation that causes a lack of vibrancy in skin pigmentation.

“Not just to be able to see it,” said Hayes, “but to be able to see it hunting with the pod, was beyond what I could have ever hoped for as a scientist. Hopefully, we can monitor it and find out what happens in the life of a white killer whale.”

The whale had already been documented by British Columbia researchers and named Tl’uk, meaning “bright moon” in the language of the Salish people of the Pacific Northwest. It was spotted in the Puget Sound in Washington in April 2020. The two-year-old whale may encounter difficulties later in life due to its coloring, but for now he’s certainly a welcome sight.

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