Whale watchers in California were recently treated to a rare experience when among a pod of killer whales, aka orca (Orcinus orca), a white calf was spotted.
CA216C1, or “Frosty” as the calf is known, is a three-year-old male orca who is leucistic. Frosty has patches of black on his dorsal fin and the front of his face. This is because leucism causes the partial loss of pigmentation, caused by a genetic mutation. Other genetic conditions that cause changes to the coloration of animals include melanism, where the entire coloration becomes black due to excess production of melanin, and albinism, which typically turns the entire animal white with red eyes.
First encountered in 2019, Frosty belongs to a pod known as CA216, a group of orcas that are called transient or Bigg’s killer whales. This group has been monitored by researchers who have found that the pod travels around the west coast of North America, with sightings of them as far down as the Mexican border and even up into Canada in the North. Other killer whale groups are known as resident killer whales and will stay in family groups in roughly the same area.
The team from Newport Coastal Adventure, who run whale watching trips, filmed and shared the footage on their Facebook and Instagram pages of Frosty with six other adult orcas in the area on April 24. Frosty and his friends were swimming around 13 kilometers (8 miles) off the coast of Malibu, near Newport Harbour.
Mark Girardeau, a wildlife photographer, also filmed Frosty, which he shared on his Instagram page.
Gone Whale Watching San Diego, founded by wildlife cinematographer Domenic Biagini, also spotted Frosty swimming with his pod in October 2021.
While leucism may cause detrimental effects to other species with the condition, Frosty seems to be in good health. Orcas have no real predators, so it is thought that Frosty is likely to live a typical orca life into his adulthood.