Something magical was spotted in the water off the coast of British Columbia near Victoria, BC. A frequent spot for interested travellers and locals alike, Canada’s west coast boasts incredible views of orcas travelling between southern California and Alaska. During the prime summer months of May through September, the activity picks up big time.
And while every orca sighting offers a unique experience, this encounter offered a memory that will never fade.
The White Whale
The albino rhino, the white-blue whale – several species in the animal kingdom offer glimpses of animals absent their normal colouring. Spotting a white killer whale in the wild is extremely rare. So when a group of naturalists caught a glimpse of a pale killer whale in May of 2019, they instantly recognized the significance. This colouring has actually been seen in these parts before – a faded grey that includes patches of darker colouring – which might indicate these are sightings of the same orca, a young male, scientists believe, could simply grow into his common black and white colours.
But there have been other orca outliers. Researchers with the Far East Orca Project have confirmed sightings of between five and eight white orcas in the western North Pacific Ocean. These sightings began with the enormous dorsal fin of a pale orca called Iceberg.
Reasons for these outliers are unclear. Like the young male in British Columbia, the pale colouring could simply be a genetic defect that will correct with age. Inbreeding has also been blamed, though unlikely due to the large populations of orcas in these areas.
In any case, the pale orca is certainly a sight that needs to be seen to be believed.
The Playful Hunter
Killer whales have been known to play with their food prior to eating it. Like cats toying with a mouse, orcas have been documented flipping unfortunate seals high into the air before earning their killer nickname quickly thereafter.
However, a rarely seen sight from a group of outliers demonstrated a different version of the behaviour. Underwater photographer Jorge Cervesa Hauser was documenting a pod of orcas attracting a large fuss in the hurricane-ravaged waters in the Sea of Cortez in the summer of 2018. While Hauser expected to see orca whales feeding, he and his guests were treated to something much different – an orca whale that stunned a large stingray with its tail simply abandoned its prey and moved on without eating it. The manoeuvre could have been considered a display of intimidation, or simply a threat demonstration.
A similar yet perhaps more comedically tragic story involves another pod and a group of unfortunate sea turtles near the Galapagos Islands. These killer whales took the meaning of playing with your food to new depths as they spun the turtles like tops, flipped them around on their noses, and launched them out of the water. Like a dog with a bone, the orcas would taunt photographer Nicolas Davos with their prize before reversing direction and swimming away.
Most of the turtles were unharmed and left behind when the small pod grew bored. Emotional scars no doubt remained, however.
The False Killer
And finally, an outlier that comes by its unusual status honestly. The False Killer Whale earns its name simply because of its similar shape and colouring. Technically a large species of dolphin, the False Killer Whale is a social animal. They create firm bonds with their family and friends that last a lifetime. They’re often spotted in groups of 40 or 50 other dolphins, performing flips and spins high out of the water.
Whether it’s the playful hunter, the mysterious white whale, or the jovial false killer, be sure to keep your eyes peeled when whale watching! Who knows, maybe you’ll spot a brand new outlier!