Rare white killer whale spotted off British Columbia, far from home in California


The young killer whale, nicknamed Frosty, and her pod were spotted about 2,000 miles from their usual home in Southern California.

A rare white killer whale was spotted Wednesday at Telegraph Cove, about 2,000 miles from its usual home off Southern California waters.

The young orca CA216C1, nicknamed Frosty, was with its mother and swimming with other passing killer whales, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

Scott Turton, captain of the Prince of Whales whale watching at Telegraph Cove, was on a nighttime excursion to watch Bigg’s killer whales when he noticed an almost entirely white animal among the pods.

Turton at first thought it might be T46B1B, or Tl’uk, a white killer whale known throughout the Salish Sea, but after taking pictures and checking markings he discovered it wasn’t. was not the case.

He recalled another white killer whale that had been seen several times off California — and even as far south as Tijuana, Mexico, last October — and contacted researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger of the California Killer Whale Project.

She confirmed it was Frosty.

At some point on Wednesday, the California killer whales separated and made their way to the shallow waters of Beaver Cove.

Resident Mike Dobbs watched orcas lingering in a shallow bay. He said they « were almost on the beach for a while », just floating around and vocalizing.

The mother and her white offspring headed north to Alert Bay, he said.

Frosty was first reported by Monterey Bay Whale Watch in August 2019, but has never been officially documented in BC waters. A California Killer Whale Project article indicates that its mother, CA216C, was seen near Alert Bay in July 2014 with her family.

« The distance between this sighting in Mexico in late October 2021 and yesterday’s sighting near Alert Bay/Telegraph Cove is over 2,500 kilometers, which is quite considerable, » said Erin Gless, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

Before Wednesday, the last sighting of Frosty was off the Farallones near San Francisco on June 26.

The killer whale’s unusual coloration is thought to be caused by Chédiak-Higashi syndrome, a rare immune disorder characterized by reduced skin pigmentation.

This is not the first killer whale seen in the Salish Sea with a similar condition.

In addition to Tl’uk, a well-documented young orca from Bigg who has not been seen since April 2021, there was also Chimo, who was captured in Pedder Bay and kept at Sealand of the Pacific in Oak Bay from 1970 to 1972.

Whale-watching operator Paul Pudwell photographed Tl’uk in the waters off Sooke for two days in September 2020.

The calf, whose name comes from the Coast Salish word Halq’eméylem meaning moon, was two years old at the time.

The young whale had previously been reported off the tip of Vancouver Island and off the southeast coast of Alaska.

Pudwell said he was the first to photograph Tl’uk near Sooke in November 2018.

Only 10 killer whales have been documented with Chédiak-Higashi syndrome worldwide, including a pair off the coast of Japan in 2021. But it’s unclear how many are currently alive.

Little is known about white killer whales because they are so few in number and move quickly. Scientists believe that white killer whales may be at a disadvantage when hunting because their coloring can alert their prey.

Bigg’s killer whales can travel up to 100 miles a day and are always on the move hunting seals, seal lions and porpoises.



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