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graycalf

Whale watchers on Blue Ocean Whale Watch tour in Monterey Bay, Calif. spotted a rare orca calf with gray-and-white pigment on Sept. 4. (Photo Credit: Kate Cummings / Blue Ocean Whale Watch)

Whale watchers in Monterey Bay, California got a rare — and adorable — surprise when they spotted a tiny, gray, newborn orca calf swimming with a pod of about 10 orca whales last week.

The calf has a “grayish pigment,” and is so young it still has fetal folds (lines on the body from being folded up in the mother’s womb, according to the Blue Ocean Whale Watch, which posted stunning images of the calf and the pod on its Facebook page.

Young killer whales are typically black and white, like their parents, so the sighting of a gray orca calf is considered extremely rare.

“Not much is known about the abnormal pigment and it may darken over time,” the company, which runs tours out of Moss Landing Harbor in Calif., posted on Facebook.

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(Photo Credit: Kate Cummings / Blue Ocean Whale Watch)

Experts also say the gray-and-white pigment on the calf could be a form of leucism, a genetic condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration.

In response to comments on its Facebook post, the Blue Ocean Whale Watch said the calf belongs to a transient killer whale pod identified as the CA216 family group.

If orcas aren’t part of a resident pod then they’re known as transient pods. In an interview with the New York Times, Nancy Black, a marine biologist and owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, said more than 150 so-called transient killer whales frequent the California coastline.

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