Updated: December 11, 2009
Capt. Jim Maya of Maya’s Westside Charters photographed what appears to be a gray killer whale. The young animal was swimming south of Victoria with a group of seal-eating transient orcas known as the T-11s.
“In over twenty years of viewing orcas in this area, I’ve never seen a gray orca,” he said in an e-mail. “I was flabbergasted!”
I reached Jim by phone and asked him if he had learned any more. He said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research had told him that about three of these gray killer whales have been spotted through the years.
It apparently is some kind of genetic condition, which has proven fatal among the animals that show this coloration, he said. The young orca pictured here is about a year old and may have a few more years to live if history is repeated.
I was unable to reach Ken Balcomb tonight, but once I have the name of this particular syndrome, I may be able to post more information at the bottom of this entry. If anyone has information to contribute, feel free to comment.
Here’s Jim Maya’s original e-mail:
I always call Ron Bates when heading out on a trip, like today. We were headed off to see Speiden Island, since the earlier sightings of Residents going north had turned into Residents going south near Whidbey. Ron didn’t have any news, but called back in a few minutes to let me know that some Ts had been sighted off the Victoria waterfront.
Off we zoomed. I called Goldwing on the VHF as we got close, about 5 miles south of Trial Island, (3:15 today) and were told that one of the Orcas had a gray dorsal fin. Gray fin? It was the whole Orca that was gray and white, not just the fin. It’s a calf and one of the T11s.
In over twenty years of viewing Orcas in this area, I’ve never seen a gray Orca. I was flabbergasted! Here are some pictures of the calf. (All of the pictures have been cropped.) I think Ken Balcomb also got some shots.