KAKE, Alaska. – A rare white killer whale was recently spotted off the southeast coast of Alaska.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) says people on an 80-foot charter boat witnessed the “less-than-once-in-a-lifetime” event on Aug. 7, just offshore of the village of Kake.
UAF graduate student Stephanie Hayes was working as first mate of the boat and was among the lucky few who spotted “glowing” orca in a pod of killer whales.
The rest of the whales in the pod, about three or four others, were the typical dairy-cow black-and-white colors, according to UAF.
Hayes recognized how rare the sighting was, because she had studied killer whales during her undergraduate work in British Columbia.
“There have only been about eight white killer whales ever recorded in the world,” Hayes told UAF. “To have one in Southeast was an incredible phenomenon.”
Hayes told UAF that the white killer whale has a condition called leucism, which she defined as a “lack of vibrancy” in its pigmentation.
“Caused by a mutation in the whale’s DNA, leucism is different from albinism, in which a creature is all white, with pink eyes,” wrote UAF in a press release.
Turns out, the whale had been spotted before by researchers and named Tl’uk, a word for moon in the language of the Salish peoples of the Pacific Northwest.
When Tl’uk leaves its pod, Hayes says its glow might be a disadvantage, perhaps alerting its prey of its approach. And, a new pod might not accept it after it reaches sexual maturity.