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

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

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross has been named critic for Environment and Climate Change Strategy for the BC Liberals. (Peter Versteege photo)
Skeena MLA Ellis Ross named critic for Environment and Climate Change Strategy

Previously, Ross was the critic for LNG, Resource Opportunities, and Responsible Development

Coast Mountains School District 82 is dealing with a shortage of bus drivers. (Natalia Balcerzak/Terrace Standard)
CMSD82 coping with bus driver shortage in Terrace area

LNG Project, COVID-19 contributing to driver shortage

The District of Stewart has adopted a strategic plan for 2020/21 with six focus areas. (District of Stewart/Facebook)
Stewart adopts 2020 strategic plan

Economy, community areas of focus

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

Paramedics register patients at a drive through, pop-up COVID-19 test centre outside the Canadian Tire Centre, home of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, in Ottawa, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians aren’t currently worried that people in other countries might get a COVID-19 vaccine first. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canadians not worried other countries will get COVID-19 vaccine first: poll

Forty-one per cent of respondents say they want the vaccine to be mandatory for all Canadians

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Kettle bells sit aligned in an indoor fitness studio. (PIxabay.com)
1 COVID-19 case at a B.C. fitness studio leads to 104 more infections, 6 school exposures

According to case data released by Fraser Health, one case of the novel coronavirus carries a big impact

Vehicles drive past a display thanking essential workers in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
B.C. changing COVID-19 case reporting as virus spread continues

Manual counting takes more time, leads to errors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Co-author of residential schools book condemns controversial Abbotsford class assignment

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka takes over as energy and mines critic for the B.C. Liberal opposition. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick (right) moves from health critic to assistant deputy speaker. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Interim leader Shirley Bond takes seniors, long-term care

Most Read