Vancouver Island Whale Watch tourists saw a white orca during a tour on May 28. (Vancouver Island Whale Watch Facebook)

Rare white orca seen in the strait near Nanaimo

Vancouver Island Whale Watch naturalist suggests orca is white due to genetics

While Captain Ahab wasn’t present, a whale-watching tour did happen to find a white whale close to Nanaimo during an excursion yesterday.

Vancouver Island Whale Watch posted photos on social media after coming across a white orca Tuesday, and Val Watson, a marine naturalist with the Nanaimo-based company on the mid-day tour, said it is not an everyday occurrence.

“For the tour we saw humpbacks and on the way back, about five minutes outside of Nanaimo, we came across a pod of orca and within that pod of orca there was a white individual,” said Watson. “It’s very rare. The last time it was recorded in our population was about 10 years ago, so it’s happened before, but it’s very uncommon.”

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Watson said it’s hard to determine whether it was an actual albino and the reasons why it was white, but genetics could be the reason for the orca’s complexion.

“There’s a couple of thoughts to it,” said Watson. “Nothing’s confirmed yet because it takes sampling, that we just don’t have access to, so what people are suggesting to us is that it’s Chediak-Higashi syndrome, which is a genetic condition that can cause albinism in mammals.”

As a white orca sighting doesn’t happen often, Watson said the tour was abuzz.

“There was a ton of excitement,” said Watson. “It’s really rare so it’s really incredible to get to see it. We weren’t really expecting to find something like that, so we were definitely excited.”



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