A Russian research ship has spotted an extremely rare white adult orca, or killer whale, off the coast of Kamchatka for the first time in history. The reason for the whale's unusual pigmentation is as yet unexplained.
The scientists identified the whale by his pure white fin, swimming together with his pod, or family, all of which have the standard black and white coloration.
He has been given the nickname Iceberg, and appears to be behaving normally.
"Iceberg seems to be fully socialized; we know that these fish-eating orcas stay with their mothers for life, and as far as we can see he's right behind his mother with presumably his brothers next to him," said Dr. Erich Hoyt, who co-leads the scientific group that spotted the mammal.
Iceberg is assumed to be at least 15 years old, judging from the size and shape of his fin. Killer whales, or orcas, can live up to 80 years, though most live around half that time.
Young white orcas have been seen in the wild, but never an adult.
Scientists may conduct a biopsy – extracting a small piece of meat from the whale to find out his genetic make-up – but for now will continue tracking Iceberg’s pod, and simply observing him.
"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," Hoyt said.