Tl’uk, a rare, low-pigment transient orca was spotted in Alaska waters last week. (Courtesy of Stephanie Hayes.)

Rare white orca spotted hunting off shores of Alaska for first time

Tl’uk seems healthy and strong, says researcher

A transient orca named after the luminescence of the moon made a surprise appearance in Alaska last week, much to the delight of the area’s researchers and whale-enthusiasts.

Known to scientists as T46-B1B, the rare white orca Tl’uk – a Coast Salish Halq’eméylem name for moon – was born in 2018 and has been spotted as far south as the Puget Sound and as of Aug. 7, as far north as Alaska.

Marine biologist Stephanie Hayes spotted the rare whale from the whale-watching and research vessel Northern Song, where she was working.

The crew was looking for humpback whales near Juneau when they spotted an orca off the coast of Kake. Soon they realized they had found a pod of transients. Then Hayes noticed a “white glow” in the water.

“As the blob got closer to the surface, his dorsal fin broke the water and everyone gasped,” she recalled. “We were shocked to see a white killer whale, it was incredible.”

Hayes checked with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and learned it was the first sighting of the whale that far north. But the excitement wasn’t over.

RELATED: Rare white orca spotted in Strait of Juan de Fuca

Only a few days later Hayes had her second encounter from the shore of Petersburg. This time she was able to capture more images and videos of the elusive white orca.

“We got to actively watch Tl’uk successfully hunt harbour seals,” she said. “He looked like a healthy member of the pod and was successfully hunting seals, which is excellent.”

While the cause of Tl’uk’s fair complexion is still unknown, Hayes said she and her research colleagues believe Tl’uk has luecism, a condition that dims pigmentation. The whale is not entirely white, his spots are still visible but his skin’s pigment is muted.

In October Tl’uk was spotted off the waters of Nanaimo by a Port Angeles whale watching group.

Hayes said as Tl’uk gets older, scientists will be able to further document the impacts of his colour on his ability to thrive. She, and others, have raised concerns that as a more visible whale, solo hunting could be trickier.

“Now that Tl’uk is ranging the full range of the pod – from Washington to Alaska – we can hopefully learn what happens to white killer whales. Are they able to hunt? Are they accepted by other pods? Do they become healthy adult individuals?”

Even if Tl’uk and his pod don’t stay in the area long, Hayes is hopeful she’ll see the moon-like whale again.

“It’s just wonderful to see him healthy and with his pod.”

RELATED: Footage of rare white orca captured by drone near Campbell River


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: nina.grossman@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

alaskaKiller WhalesOrca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There has been COVID-19 exposures at two elementary schools in District 42. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 24 additional COVID-19 cases

This includes three school exposures in Kelowna

Above, MLA-elect Doug Clovechok cast his vote early. He says he’s ready to get back to work for his constituents. Photo submitted
MLA Clovechok re-elected; ready to get back to work on Golden priorities

Clovechok says he’s ready to get back to work on issues like lower canyon access and water bottling.

Pringles.
Morning Start: The inventor of the Pringles can is now buried in one

Your morning start for Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020

Above, MLA-elect Doug Clovechok cast his vote early. Photo submitted
MLA-elect Clovechok reflects on election

He’s ready to get to work as an opposition MLA, he says

x
Morning Start: Bubble wrap was originally intended to be wallpaper

Your morning start for Monday, Oct. 26, 2020

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
L.A. Dodgers beat Rays 3-1 to win 1st World Series title since 1988

National League champs claim crown in six games

(Brennan Phillips - Western News)
UPDATE: Flames doused for second time at fatal Penticton apartment fire

The Elm Ave. building first caught fire around 4 a.m., killing two people and displacing dozens

Two have been taken to hospital following a vehicle crash north of Vernon on Highway 97 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Crash north of Vernon causes Highway 97 traffic delays

Emergency crews respond to two-vehicle incident near Swan Lake; occupants taken to hospital

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Submitted)
Penticton apartment fire claims two lives

An apartment on Elm Avenue went up in flames Tuesday morning

A Summerland woman has set up an online fundraiser to provide backpacks to those being released from correctional facilities.(ca.gofundme.com)
Summerland woman raising money for backpack program

Backpacks will be distributed to those being released from correctional facilities

École de l’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
15 cases of COVID-19 tied to Kelowna Francophone school outbreak

Three other schools in Kelowna are also dealing with potential exposure events

Most Read