'The whale is doing well': Scientists say B.C.'s rare white orca is thriving
VICTORIA -- Spotting an orca, or killer whale, in frigid Pacific waters is a rare treat delivered by nature.
So, laying eyes on a white whale swimming next to its traditionally black family members should be even more rare. While it is uncommon to see, a researcher says Tl'uk, a white orca living near the waters off Vancouver Island, isn't that hard to find.
"Chances are good you'll see it," said Fisheries and Oceans Canada researcher Jared Towers. "But remember that whales need their space."
Towers has watched something truly rare in his career on the ocean.
In 2018 he was one of the first Canadian scientists to confirm a white Bigg's killer whale had been born into the B.C. population.
According to Towers this white whale is one of only four or five ever recorded in Canadian Pacific waters.
Known by scientists as T046B1B, the nearly two-year-old orca also goes by Tl'uk. In the Indigenous language of the Coast Salish people, it roughly translates as “Moon.”
Ever since the little white whale was first spotted off Vancouver Island, it’s been making consistent appearances in videos and pictures.
Federal scientists say he is gaining weight, hunting with his family group and generally thriving.
“Yes, the whale is doing very well,” said Towers, who spotted Tl’uk as recently as last week near Alert Bay.
“It's seen very often around Vancouver Island and I expect it will continue to be seen as its family has a long sightings history around here.”
Born into a family which is apparently not afraid of the limelight, DFO researchers say it’s important to be inspired by the white whale and his family, but to do so at a great distance.
New federal regulations mean vessels must be 400 metres away from killer whales once they are spotted.
Marine operators with special permits can come as close as 200 metres, however.
Tl’uk is part of the Bigg's killer whale populations which, are known as transient orcas.
Unlike their salmon-eating cousins, the southern resident killer whales, Bigg's killer whales are thriving with new births and large family groups.
Southern resident killer whales are severely endangered with only 72 known individuals.
Bigg's killer whales swim the waters of eastern and western Vancouver Island and have been spotted as far north as Alaska.