A “beautiful” and “extremely rare” light-colored orca has been spotted in waters off the coast of Japan.
As seen in images captured by a local sightseeing company, the male orca lacks the distinctive black markings that are characteristic of killer whales. Instead, the orca appears pale, with a whitish-grey color.
It is not clear why the orca has this pale coloration, Mai, a spokesperson from the Gojiraiwa-Kanko sightseeing company that spotted the whale, told Newsweek.
One explanation is that the orca has leucism—a condition affecting various animals characterized by an overall pale color or areas of reduced coloration.
This condition is caused by a genetic mutation that inhibits the production of the pigment melanin, as well as others, leading to white, pale, or patchy coloration in feathers, hair, skin, or scales, although it usually doesn’t affect the eyes.
“We are so glad [to see the whale] because a white orca is really rare. It’s amazing!” Mai told Newsweek.
The crew of a sightseeing boat from Gojiraiwa-Kanko first spotted the white orca on May 13 at around 7 a.m. local time in the Nemuro Strait, around 2-3 miles offshore from the port of Rausu on the Shiretoko Peninsula.
The peninsula is located in the easternmost part of Hokkaidō—Japan’s second-largest island and northernmost region. Gojiraiwa-Kanko operates sightseeing tours in the waters around the peninsula, with the region near Rausu being one of the leading whale-watching spots in Hokkaidō.
The white orca was spotted among a pod of around 13-15 other individuals, the rest of which appeared to be normal in color.
After the crew of the first boat spotted the group, four other sightseeing boats departed from Rausu port and observed the white orca later that morning.
“The group of orcas including the white orca passed under the boats and moved around the boats,” Mai said. “It seemed to be playing.”
Mai said the white orca measured approximately 23-26 feet in length and was male.
The spokesperson said Gojiraiwa-Kanko sightseeing tours and crews had only observed similar white orca such as this on three separate occasions to date.
“The first time we saw it was in 2019—we presume that it was the same individual as this time,” Mai said. “The second time was in 2021—our boat observed two white orcas. This is the third time we observed a white one.”
“So we observed white orcas three times until now. That’s extremely rare!” Mai said.
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