"Gallon of Milk," a fabled female albino gray whale, was seen yet again off Mexico’s Pacific coast.
In their annual whale census, the Commission of Natural Protected Areas (Conanp) captured the whale and her calf in a video. The albino whale earned the nickname after she was first spotted by Conanp seven years ago.
“This specimen was observed for the first time during the 2008-2009 season as a whale calf with the albino characteristics for which it was named,” Conanp explains in a recent online post.
“In the recent sighting, this time in the area known as Alambre Island in the Ojo de Liebre Lagoon, Gallon of Milk was accompanied by a calf that was completely gray, which must mean she has become a mother for the first time.”
Scientists estimate that one in every 100,000 mammals are identified as albino. And while albino animals are rare on land, they are even more rare at sea. Not counting Herman Melville’s famous Moby Dick, of course.
“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,” Tech Times explains. “This condition has been better documented among land mammals, reptiles and birds, both in captivity and in the wild.”
An albino humpback whale named Migaloo has been tracked by Australians since 1991, and small albino humpback whale calf named Migaloo Junior was identified in 2011. The animals’ coloring allows whale watchers to easily identify and photograph Migaloo, and now Migaloo Junior, sightings as the humpbacks travel up the east coast of Australia from Antarctica.
And the first mature white orca was spotted off the coast of Kamchatka in eastern Russia in 2012. The adult male, who has been nicknamed Iceberg, is the first orca to survive to maturity, say researchers. White killer whale calves have been identified in Russia, but none have survived as long as Iceberg.
Albino land mammals are typically more at risk in the wild than their normal-colored relatives.
“An animal’s coloring often is key in helping it hide, either from predators or prey,” the Wildlife in Need Center explains on their website. “Without it, an albino animal is often a sitting duck!”
Probably because of their rarity, researchers haven’t publicly concluded whether these albino whales share the same threats as their land-bound counterparts. Today, the main predators of gray whales are orcas, also known as killer whales.
This is the seventh census carried out by Conanp, which counts 2,211 gray whales. Of those, 1,004 are believed to be calves born in Mexico.