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

An unused fruit stand at Highway 97 and Road 1 went up in flames Thursday night. (Oliver Fire Department)
UPDATE: Abandoned Oliver fruit stand fire considered suspicious

The timing of the midnight fire is one reason the fire is suspicious

(Pixabay photo)
Morning Start: Vanilla flavouring contains goo from beaver butts

Your morning start for Friday, May 7, 2021

A structure at Highway 97 and Road 1 went up in flames Thursday night. (Oliver Fire Department)
Building in Oliver goes up in flames

Power was distrupted in parts of town while the fire was going Thursday night

The Primary Urgent Care Centre on Martin Street officially opened on March 31, 2021. (Brennan Phillips)
Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District reverses funding decision on care centre

Approval now granted to fund $1 million for Urgent and Primary Care Centre in Penticton

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Revelstoke’s Mayor Gary Sulz getting his COVID-19 vaccination on April 5. (Jocelyn Doll - Revelstoke Review)
Revelstoke is leading B.C.’s interior on vaccinations: Interior Health

Approximately 70% of the community has first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A woman checks out a jobs advertisement sign during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto in April 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Kelowna’s unemployment rate jumps in April, remains one of Canada’s lowest

Kelowna had the fifth-lowest unemployment rate of major centres across the country in April

Junior A team Coquitlam Express is offering all Tri-City residents who get vaccinated against COVID-19 a free ticket to one of their games. (Facebook/Coquitlam Express)
B.C. hockey team offering free tickets to hometown fans who get the COVID-19 vaccine

‘We know the only way to get fans back is people getting vaccinated,’ says Express’ general manager Tali Campbell

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s latest COVID-19 restrictions cost thousands of service jobs

Part-time workers set back again by spike in virus spread

The Tolko Mill in Kelowna on Feb. 2, 2018. (File)
Tolko receives extension for environmental assessment of defunct Kelowna mill

The extension gives Tolko time to decommission, remove structures at the site

Fun 4 All Pet Resort is closed for two weeks following a COVID-19 outbreak among staff. (Fun 4 All photo)
COVID closes Vernon dog daycare

Two staff members test positive at dog boarding centre

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Leaked report shows detailed B.C. COVID-19 data not being released to public

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Abbotsford school board trustee Phil Anderson has stepped down after sharing an offensive image on Facebook. (File photo)
Abbotsford trustee temporarily steps down after sharing post relating COVID masks to slavery

Phil Anderson to receive training to better understand provincial mask mandate after posting picture

Most Read