Adult white orca seen for the first time in the wild

For the first time ever, scientists say they’ve spotted an adult white orca—or killer whale—in the wild.

The discovery occurred off the coast of Kamchatka, in eastern Russia, where experts participating in the Far East Russia Orca Project have been conducting field research. They nicknamed the male orca Iceberg for his pale colouring.

“We’ve seen another two white orcas in Russia but they’ve been young, whereas this is the first time we’ve seen a mature adult,” Erich Hoyt, senior research fellow of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, told the BBC. “It has the full two-metre-high dorsal fin of a mature male, which means it’s at least 16 years old – in fact the fin is somewhat ragged, so it might be a bit older.”

White whales of any species are rare. An albino humpback whale named Migaloo, first seen in 1991, is famous in Australia, for example. But until now, only young orcas had been spotted with the unusual pigmentation. In 1972, a white orca named Chima, who suffered from a genetic disorder called Chediak-Higashi syndrome, died in captivity.

The group that found Iceberg is now hoping to learn more about the white whale, who despite his unusual appearance, appears to have been fully accepted as a member of his familial pod.