An all-white killer whale has been spotted in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula in what experts believe to be the first sighting of its kind.
The fully grown orca bull named “Iceberg” surfaced near scientists from Moscow and St Petersburg in the vicinity of the remote Commander Islands.
“Iceberg is a symbol of all that is pure, wild and extraordinarily exciting about what is out there in the ocean,” said expedition co-leader Erich Hoyt, who has studied whales in Russian waters for over ten years and is a fellow of the UK’s Whale and Dolphin Preservation Society.
“[He is] one of the most beautiful orcas anyone has ever seen.” The enormous snow-white creature that has a dorsal fin that is more than two metres long appeared to be healthy and interacting normally with its family members in a 12-strong pod.
White whales are a rare phenomenon and often do not survive long enough to reach adulthood. Researchers do not know the reason for Iceberg’s strange pigmentation.
Those who watched the whale playing and feeding in the waters of Russia’s largest marine reserve said that he was likely to be an albino.
But they will not know for sure until they can glimpse mammal’s eyes and discover whether they are red or not. Researchers plan to track Iceberg and his pod over the summer months.
There have been reports of white orcas before, including a sighting off the Aleutian Islands near Alaska in 2008. But the most famous white whale is the eponymous hero of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick – a white sperm whale.
The scientists who came across Iceberg were working as a part of the Far East Russia Orca Project, begun in 1999 to protect killer whale populations under threat from hunting teams seeking to capture them for aquariums. They have sighted and catalogued about 1,500 whales so far.
By Howard Amos in Moscow
1:35PM BST 23 Apr 2012