NEMURO, Hokkaido -- A rare white killer whale was photographed in the Nemuro Strait off Rausu in the northeastern part of Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido by a Japanese research group member on May 16.
According to the University Alliance for Hokkaido Orca Research Project (Uni-HORP), it is very rare to spot a white killer whale in the sea near Japan, and it was the first time for a Japanese researcher to take such a photo. Killer whales usually have a black back with white spots on the temples of their heads and a white abdomen, but the body of this whale is almost all white.
The Nemuro Strait is located between the town of Rausu in the Shiretoko Peninsula, designated as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site, and Kunashiri Island, one of the four disputed isles comprising the Northern Territories effectively controlled by Russia.
At around 1:30 p.m. on May 16, the research group discovered a white male killer whale among a pod of about 10 such creatures in the sea that is effectively controlled by Russia, more than 10 kilometers from the town's urban area. Tokai University professor Hiroshi Oizumi, who specializes in marine mammals, took the picture of the rare animal, which was over 5 kilometers away from a ship chartered by the group.
According to Yoko Mitani, an associate professor of the Field Science Center for Northern Biosphere, Hokkaido University, who participated in the study, a Russian researcher photographed a white male killer whale in a pod of 12 animals near the Commander Islands, east of the Kamchatka Peninsula, in August 2010. The killer whale was nicknamed "Iceberg."
White killer whales were also photographed amongst a pod off the Kuril Islands, between the Kamchatka Peninsula and Hokkaido in 2014.
(Japanese original by Hiroaki Homma, Nemuro Resident Bureau)