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

OUR VIEW: Way too many Surrey COVID-19 cases

We all need to take this threat seriously

Horgan says Surrey mayor opened ‘hornets’ nest’ with Surrey policing transition

Surrey election battle heating up over Doug McCallum’s controversial cop transition

Semiahmoo Bottle Depot part of hybrid-electic compaction truck pilot program

Return-It launches program at 16 B.C. bottle depots with aim to reduce emissions

Horgan lambastes Liberal health record in Surrey

BCNDP leader attacks Andrew Wilkinson’s role in selling a potential hospital site here at a discount

OPINION: It’s Time for Surrey to be Heard

Which party will listen to Surrey voters?

B.C. reports 91 new cases as officials remain worried over ‘clusters of COVID-19

There have now been a total of 8,395 cases in B.C. since the pandemic began

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

First 8 months of fatal overdoses in B.C. have now exceeded 2019 death toll

Nine people died every two days in August, BC Coroners Service data shows

Liberal effort to reset policy agenda panned by rivals as too much talk, not action

Trudeau said it’s ‘all too likely’ families won’t be able to gather for Thanksgiving next month

Return-It depots change beverage container deposits from 20 to 10 cents

Change will be implemented on Oct. 1, with a transition period being held until Oct. 11

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

‘Show us the money’ for cannabis, local governments tell B.C.

Municipal tax, transit revenues falling as costs rise

Young man assaulted, left for 12 hours until help called in Vancouver’s Strathcona Park

Vancouver police are looking to identify the victim as they investigate an assault on Monday evening

Boulders near Harrison vandalized with derogatory word

Vandalism likely occured between Sunday evening and Tuesday evening

Most Read