Search for the great white (killer) whale

04/24/2012

Call them Ishmael.

A group of Russian scientists plan to embark on a journey next week to find the only all-white, adult killer whale ever seen.

But unlike Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick, researchers from the universities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg simply want to study the rare and elusive mammal.

Nicknamed “Iceberg,” the alabaster orca was sighted near the Commander Islands in the North Pacific in August 2010, living in a pod with 12 other family members, according to Agence France-Presse.

Judging from its towering, six-foot dorsal fin, Iceberg was deemed to be at least 16 years old, said Erich Hoyt, co-director of the Far East Russia Orca Project.

“This is the first time we have ever seen an all-white, mature male orca,” Hoyt told the wire service. “It is a breathtakingly beautiful animal.”

The scientists refrained from releasing photographs of Iceberg until they were able to study him further, “but we have been looking for him ever since,” said Hoyt.

Locating the rare killer whale will be no easy task as orcas can travel thousands of miles.

“The scientists would like to establish whether Iceberg is albino – a genetic condition that leaves animals unable to produce melanin, a dark pigment of skin, hair and the eye’s retina and iris,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Two other white orcas are known to live in the waters where Iceberg was spotted, east of Kamtchatka peninsula in Russia’s far-east, but they are juveniles, the wire service added.

In 1970, a two-year-old white orca, Chimo, was captured in Canada for a dolphinarium, and was diagnosed with a type of albinism after its death two years later.

“We want to find out a lot more about Iceberg,” said Hoyt. “We would like to find out how he is able to survive as a white whale.”

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