You’ve been waiting for the white whale for ages … and then TWO comes! Stunned animal watchers spotted a PAIR of rare killer whales off the coast of Japan.
- Whale watchers off the coast of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido spot two white killer whales swimming together
- One was an older animal, first seen two years ago, and the other was younger and had never been seen before.
- The two killer whales are not considered albinos, but are leucistic, which means they still have skin pigment.
- This means that their markings are still faintly visible, and the eyes are still dark rather than bright red.
Whale watchers off the coast Japan We could hardly believe our eyes when we saw two rare white killer whales swimming together in one flock.
Killer whales were sighted on a whale watching tour on July 24 in the Kunashir Strait, a 20-mile stretch of water between the northern islands of Hokkaido and Kunashir.
Mai, an employee of the Godjiraiwa-Kanko travel company, said one was older with slightly darker skin, while the other was younger and had prominent scratches on his back.
She said the older whale was first sighted about two years ago, but she saw the younger animal for the first time and saw them both together for the first time.
“It was the best day in the world. “This is the first time that two white killer whales have been seen off the coast of Japan,” she said.
Japanese whale watchers were stunned to see two rare white killer whales swimming off the coast of Hokkaido, one of the country’s northernmost islands, over the weekend.
This pair includes an older killer whale (right) that was previously seen two years ago and a younger killer whale (left) that has never been seen before.
The pair are part of a herd that contains mostly normal-looking killer whales, but the two are believed to carry a gene that removes some of the pigment from their skin, making them white.
Killer whales are not considered true albinos, which means they have no pigment on their skin, and instead are thought to have leucism – a generic term for a number of conditions that partially remove pigment from their skin.
The couple are not “true” albinos, which is due to a genetic trait that means the affected animal does not produce melanin at all, the compound that gives color to skin, hair, feathers, and eyes.
True albinos will be completely white and have red eyes – the color that gives red blood in the vessels that are usually hidden behind the translucent iris.
Instead, the two whales are thought to have leucism, a generic term that encompasses a range of conditions in which animals produce some melanin but either have noticeably whiter skin or white-spotted skin.
This explains why the white patches that traditionally surround the chin and eyes of a killer whale are still visible in two animals found near Japan, and why the eyes themselves are still dark.
It may also help explain the scars on the side of a young animal, which are especially noticeable as the scar tissue appears to have healed and has taken on a darker hue compared to the surrounding white skin.
Killer whales and whales were once so rare that they were considered a myth, but they are becoming more common as scientists know of at least five individuals living today.
The presence of leucism may partly explain why the young dolphin has visible scars on its side – the scar tissue contains more pigment than the rest of the skin, making the wound difficult to miss.
White whales and killer whales are becoming more common, which scientists believe may be due to a decrease in the number of animals, which reduces their genetic variability, which means that rare traits are becoming more common.
It is not known what effect white has on affected killer whales, although it clearly makes them more visible, which in turn could make them less effective hunters and means they get more attention from rivals.
One of the white killer whales swims along with three other members of their flock, all of which have the typical white and black markings common to this species.
It’s not entirely clear why they are becoming more common, but scientists speculate that this may be due to declining whale numbers and is a sign that the species is in trouble.
As the population of a species declines, so does its genetic variability, because the remaining animals have fewer potential partners to choose from.
Depending on the genes the remaining people carry, it can highlight some traits that were previously considered genetically rare.
This includes rare genetic disorders that impede the ability of animals to survive in the wild, threatening to hasten the extinction of the species.
While it is not known exactly what effect leucism has on the lives of killer whales that inherit it, it makes them more visible, potentially hindering their hunting ability and attracting unwanted attention from rivals.
However, this trait is not always harmful. For example, Kermode bears are traditionally black, but are increasingly born white due to a recessive gene.
Scientists have found that this trait leads to the fact that they catch more fish, because salmon are more difficult to detect them.