An albino whale named “Gallon of Milk” made a rare appearance during a yearly whale census off Mexico’s Pacific coast.
It was a welcome sight for conservation officials in the country as the extremely rare albino female gray whale had last been spotted in 2009.
The National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) posted a Facebook video showing the whale swimming in waters located near Baja California Sur in Mexico with a small calf in tow. The offspring did not appear to inherit her albino appearance.
“Gallon of Milk” was first documented during the 2008-2009 season and belonged to an annual count of gray whales migrating to the area.
According to CONANP, 2,211 gray whales showed up this year in the Ojo de Liebre lagoon of the El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, the biological landscape of which researchers have been monitoring for 20 years now. Of those specimens, 1,004 are calves born in Mexico.
The bright white whale’s condition albinism makes her of a special kind, since the gene mutation that leads to a sharp decrease in the pigment melanin – or the lack of it – is barely recorded among marine mammals. This condition has been better documented among land mammals, reptiles and birds, both in captivity and in the wild.
The annual monitoring helps ensure the continuing survival of the gray whale species (Eschrichtius robustus), a highly endangered breed migrating every year between feeding and breeding sites. These majestic creatures can live up to 70 years, and grow to weigh 40 tons and reach 50 feet in length.
Young whales grow to learn their parents’ migration patterns. “Usually calves follow their mothers from breeding areas to foraging grounds,” said Bruce Mate, director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute.
Gray whale populations were also decimated by commercial whaling. At present, their groups thrive in waters on the Pacific Ocean’s eastern and western sides, believed to be separated from each other.
Those in the western Pacific – previously thought to be totally wiped out – are estimated to possibly be critically endangered at a 130-population count.