Whale watchers were left amazed when they spotted two very uncommon white orcas swimming together near the coast of Japan. The sighting occurred during a whale-watching tour between the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Kunashir.
Mai, an employee of the Gojiraiwa-Kanko tour business, reported that one of the two orcas was an older whale with noticeably darker skin, while the other was younger with clear scratch scars down its back. The adult whale had been sighted for the first time around two years prior, while the younger whale was recently discovered.
This is a historic sighting, as two white orcas have never been spotted off the coast of Japan before. The orcas have leucism, a condition where they are not completely pigment-free, unlike albinism. They still have the typical white patches around their chin and eyes, and their eyes are black.
Scientists have discovered at least five white orcas and whales that are still living, even though they were once considered mythical due to their rarity. However, due to their limited population, the species’ genetic diversity is declining, which is concerning for the survival of the species.
Leucism can make them more conspicuous, affect their hunting ability, and attract unwanted attention from rival orcas, further endangering their existence.
While the specific effects of leucism on inherited orcas are unknown, this historic sighting highlights the need for greater conservation efforts to protect these magnificent creatures and preserve their genetic diversity.