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Happy Trash-tober!

To celebrate spooky season, our WDC North America team decided to do our part to...
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Join WDC for STEM Week 2021!

Hey! Join me and Whale & Dolphin Conservation for STEM Week 2021! If you're interested...
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Faroe Islands whale and dolphin slaughter – what have we done and what are we doing?

The massacre of 1,428 Atlantic white-sided dolphins at Skálafjørður on the Faroe Islands on 12th...
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Orcas, sea lions, and viral videos

"What do I do?!" You may have seen the latest viral animal video involving a...
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The horror – reflecting on the massacre of 1,428 dolphins on the Faroe Islands

Like you and millions of people around the globe, I felt horrified by the news...
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Meet the 2021 WDC Interns!

Every spring and summer, we get to open up our office to interns from all...
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Orca Month 2021 – We are Family

We have come to the end of another amazing Orca Action Month, and for the...
Text says "Does social and racial justice have a place in saving whales? Then below that is a simple drawing of a humpback whale and to the right of the whale, white text says "Yes, it does." In small text, whales.org is at the bottom.

Does social and racial justice have a place in saving whales?

The short answer is YES. The planet needs whales and whales need us, ALL of...

The return of Iceberg, the all-white killer whale

Last week, I reported that after five years, Iceberg, the big all white male killer whale has been resighted by WDC’s Far East Russia Orca Project (FEROP) team.  Iceberg is still travelling with his family of fish-eating orcas – 12 or 13 orcas in his pod, all except him normal looking. He’s now at least about 22 years old. We can tell because when we first saw him his large dorsal fin had already grown to its full 6-foot height, making him mature.

Iceberg’s health is good news. On Sept. 1, our FEROP team published a paper on white killer whales in the scientific journal Aquatic Mammals. Over the past decade in Russian waters we have found at least five and possibly eight different all white killer whales. Iceberg is the only mature male; the others are mostly immature juveniles and calves except for two mature females.

We estimate that roughly one in 1,000 killer whales in Russian waters are all white. This is probably the highest ratio in the world. The incidence of albinism in mammals is 1 in 10,000. By comparison, in the Antarctic, home of probably half the world’s killer whales, white killer whales have never been seen. The odd white killer whale has been found historically in other areas, including a young female albino named Chimo who was captured in 1970 off Vancouver Island, Canada, who died 2 years later in an aquarium from a rare genetic disease, Chediak-Higashi Syndrome.

Our paper suggests that most of the five to eight white killer whales in Russian waters are true albinos, rather than leucistic, but we don’t know for sure. Leucism is a pigmentation condition of whiteness with splotchy patches of white whereas albinism tends to have solid white or pale yellow colouring.

White killer whales are extraordinarily beautiful. They stand out of course. And yet we have no evidence of any aggression toward them, or that they become outcasts. They are completely accepted in their pods. Yet albinism is a dubious honour. In the paper we express concerns for the high number of white killer whales in Russia. As reported in our paper, the prevalence of albinism probably indicates inbreeding and it highlights how vulnerable killer whales are not only to environmental and human-caused factors but also to the internal mutation load which can become a significant threat in small inbred populations.

Iceberg, for his part, may be one of the lucky ones: He has already lived to male orca middle age and is still apparently in good health. We hope to meet him again soon.

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