When Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas was making its 2016 census of whale populations along the Pacific Coast, researchers received an unexpected surprise. They spotted and took a video of a rare albino female gray whale. Named “Gallon of Milk” because of her dazzling white color, the whale had last been seen as a calf during the 2008-2009 whale observation season. Now here she was again, grown and fit, with a normal-colored gray calf of her own.
Gallon of Milk was among 2,211 whales observed and counted in the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve in an area of the Ojo de Liebre Lagoon known as Alambre Island. Of the total, 1,004 were Mexican-born calves. Gray whales are highly endangered, and keeping close watch on their numbers is a means of ensuring their survival. When fully grown, gray whales can be up to 50 feet long, weigh 40 tons and live as long as 70 years.
The gene mutation leading to a lack of the melanin pigment that characterizes albinism is rare among marine mammals, since both parents need to pass recessive genes on to their offspring. The condition has a number of drawbacks, such as acute sensitivity to sunshine, less ability to absorb heat in cold waters and problems with visual communication. Additionally, the white coloring of albinos is more likely to attract predators, although Gallon of Milk’s size probably decreases her vulnerability.
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The rarity of albino whales such as Gallon of Milk adds to her celebrity status. The first albino killer whale to reach adulthood, Iceberg, was discovered in 2012. Other famous albino whales include a humpback named Migaloo, which Australians have been tracking off their coasts since 1991, and a humpback calf known as Migaloo Junior that was first sighted in 2011. Watch this video of Migaloo Junior, also known as Son of Migaloo.Whizzco