Sunday, March 09, 2008

White Orca Spotted...

Ian Byington of the San Juan Update reports:

Scientists aboard the NOAA research vessel Oscar Dyson in the North Pacific have sighted a creature of great rarity and even myth: a white whale. The white killer whale was spotted with its pod about two miles off Kanaga Volcano, part of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, on Feb. 23.

At the time, Kodiak-based Oscar Dyson was on a research expedition for NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center, assessing pollock fish stocks near Steller sea lion haulout sites. The white whale is a fish-eating type of killer whale, as were all the killer whales photographed on the expedition. Fish-eating killer whales are the most frequently seen whales around the Aleutian Islands during the summer. The winter sightings represent important evidence that they may be common year-round.


Holly Fearnbach, a research biologist at NOAA's National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, was able to photograph the whale's white fin and back. "With hundreds of killer whales documented around the Aleutian Islands, this was equivalent to finding a needle in a haystack," she said. Few white killer whales have ever been seen, according to Fearnbach, much less scientifically documented.

This whale is likely not a true albino because it still has signs of darker pigmented areas on its body. However, because of its prominent coloring, the white whale serves as an indicator for movements of killer whales in the North Pacific.

Other sightings of a white killer whale have been reported previously in the Aleutian Islands as well as in the Bering Sea and off the Russian coast. Scientists are working to confirm whether or not the individual whale sighted Feb. 23 has been reported earlier.

Here's the full article, for our whale-nut friends.


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