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Rare white orca spotted in Puget Sound

White whales are so rare that only a handful have been documented worldwide.

ALLYN-GRAPEVIEW, Wash. — A rare white orca is causing a stir in Puget Sound.

Scott Griffin spotted the pod of Bigg’s transient orcas swimming in Case Inlet near his home in Allyn, Washington. He put up his drone to get a better look – and spotted the nearly-white whale.

“It’s like, holy cow, look at that,” he said. “It was a shock.”

Howard Garrett of the Orca Network saw the same pod earlier this month in Holmes Harbor. He said the white whale, known as Tl’uk, is a juvenile whale born in 2018.

“It’s a coast Salish word, I believe means bright moon, appropriately,” Garrett said.

Orca Network has been documenting the sightings.

He said Tl’uk has some coloring and markings, so is not a true albino whale. The coloring change is attributed to a loss of pigment known as leucism. He’s more gray in color up close, but lacks the recognizable black back of most orcas.

“His behavior and relating to his family is all very normal, he just stands out in a crowd,” Garrett said. “That’s for sure. He’s a beautiful whale. He’s got a mystical quality about him to a lot of people.”

Garrett believes this is the first time Tl’uk has made it into Puget Sound proper – his pod spends a lot of time in northern waters off B.C. and Alaska.

White orcas are very rare – Garrett knows of only a handful documented worldwide. Transients also differ from Southern and Northern Resident Killer Whales in that they feed on marine mammals, not salmon.

The transient pod also caused a stir surfacing near a floating dock on Whidbey Island – to the delight of people watching there just feet away.

For Scott and his family – their encounter is a memory that will last a lifetime.

“We were lucky, very lucky,” he said.

And a small silver lining to this time of social distancing. 

“It makes you realize all things are not all bad,” Griffin said. “There are some good things out there. You’ve got to look at the positive side of it.”

Because of COVID-19, Orca Network has temporarily stopped sharing real-time whale sightings on their social media pages. But - they do ask you continue to report sightings here.

Orca coverage on KING 5