Watch: Extremely Rare White Killer Whale Spotted off California Coast

Drone footage shows a white orca calf swimming with a pod of adults in the Pacific Ocean
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white killer whale
The white killer whale calf was in a pod with six other adults. @thedronebooth / via Instagram

Herman Melville’s famous story about the white whale known as “Moby Dick” came partway to life on April 23, when a group of whale watchers spotted a white killer whale calf off the California coast. Drone footage of the sighting was shared to Instagram, and it shows the calf traveling with a pod of six other orcas.

Sunday’s rare sighting occurred roughly 50 miles offshore from Newport Beach near Los Angeles. The group was led by Newport Coastal Adventure, and NCA Captain Delaney Trowbridge said they were tipped off to the pod’s location by another whale-watching company in Long Beach, according to WFLA News.

“On just a few hours notice, we loaded three boats for a special trip and drove 50 miles before we finally found the CA126 Pod,” NCA explained on social media. “One of the youngest members of this family is ‘Frosty,’ named for the unusually light skin [that is] the result of a rare genetic condition.”   

The 20 or so passengers were able to watch the whales for over two hours, Trowbridge said, and the orcas made a few close passes under the boats that were caught on video by the drone. The crew eventually left the pod around sunset as the whales continued north in search of food.

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NCA acknowledged the unique sighting, as killer whales are rarely seen in southern California, and the presence of the white whale made this one even more uncommon. Experts believe the calf’s unusual coloration is a result of a genetic condition known as leucism. ‘Frosty’ lacked the pink eyes that are the telltale sign of albinism, and while it was mostly white, the whale’s head and dorsal fin were more of a grayish hue.

All About White Killer Whales

Experts are unsure of how many white killer whales exist in the world’s oceans. But according to a 2016 study that looked at three white orcas spotted in the Pacific between 2008 and 2015: “Reports of white killer whales date back to the early 20th century.”

UK-based whale researcher Erich Hoyt was one of the authors of that study. He explained in an interview with LiveScience that orca populations in the North Pacific tend to have more white individuals than other oceans.

“Roughly 1 in 1,000 orcas in the western North Pacific [are white],” he said. “That is probably the highest ratio anywhere in the world.”

Hoyt added that while albinism is often the result of inbreeding in orca populations, leucism is more of a random genetic mutation that doesn’t affect the whale’s health. This would make sense as ‘Frosty’ is estimated to be around three years old, and he seemed to be in good physical shape when he was spotted over the weekend.