Russian scientists have spotted white adult orca, or killer whale, during a research expedition off Russia's east coast. The picure on the left is screenshot of the video footage they got of it. The team will embark on a quest to observe the only all-white killer whale ever spotted, a majestic and elusive bull they have named Iceberg.
The researchers from the universities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg first spotted the orca's towering, 2-metre dorsal fin break the surface near the Commander Islands in the North Pacific in August 2010.
Living in a pod with 12 other family members, Iceberg was deemed to be at least 16 years old, given the size of his dorsal fin, said Erich Hoyt, co-director of the Far East Russia Orca Project (FEROP).
"This is the first time we have ever seen an all-white, mature male orca," Mr Hoyt said. "It is a breathtakingly beautiful animal."
Albino? The scientists decided to hold back on releasing photographs of Iceberg until they were able to study him further, "but we have been looking for him ever since", Hoyt said.
The scientists would like to establish whether Iceberg is albino - a genetic condition that leaves animals unable to produce melanin, a dark pigment of skin, hair and the eye's retina and iris.
"If we can get a full close-up of the eyes and they are pink, it would confirm Iceberg is an albino, but we don't know much about albinism in orcas," he said.
Many albino animals never grow into adulthood. Their visibility is a disadvantage in the hunt for food and protection against predators.
Juveniles Two other white orcas are known to live in the waters where Iceberg was spotted, east of Kamtchatka peninsula in Russia's far-east, but they are juveniles.
In 1970, a two-year-old white orca, Chimo, was captured in Canada for a dolphinarium, and was diagnosed with a type of albinism after its death two years later.
"We want to find out a lot more about Iceberg," said Hoyt. "We would like to find out how he is able to survive as a white whale."
The FEROP team will set out for Bering Island next week as art of a project to study the social behaviour and communication of the Kamchatkan orca population, which they say is under threat from overfishing and plans to expand oil and gas exploration.
"We've photographically identified 1500 orcas in the region in the past 12 years there," Hoyt said. "If we see any of his pod and he's not there, we'll know he's gone," Mr Hoyt said.
Source: The West