An albino whale named “Gallon of Milk” was spotted off Mexico’s Pacific coast near Baja, California, last week. Representatives with Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas confirmed the famous whale, who has not been seen in eight years, is now a mother, as she was observed swimming alongside a calf.
CONANP reports Gallon of Milk the whale was discovered during the commission’s 2008-2009 count. Although she was a juvenile at the time, the gray whale seemingly vanished for eight years.
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Last week, CONANP officials were pleased to announce the albino whale had returned to the region. According to a press release, which was published on the commission’s website, the whale was observed near Wire Island in the Laguna Ojo de Liebre.
Rare albino grey whale returns to Baja, Calif., waters after 6 years–with a baby!https://t.co/XK70AM7K9Y pic.twitter.com/wy7cJYrL5y
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Officials also confirmed Gallon of Milk the whale is a “first-time mom.” However, the calf, which was swimming close to its mother’s side, was not an albino.
Albinism is a genetic disorder that inhibits the production of melanin in animals and humans. With little or no melanin pigment, the eyes, feathers, fur, hair, scales, and skin are entirely white or pink.
Although the condition is easy to diagnose in humans, it is far more difficult to diagnose in animals. Whales, in particular, are difficult to diagnose as albinos, as scientists are often forced to rely on visual observation and photographs.
Smithsonian Magazine provided an example of three humpback whales that appear to be albinos. However, upon closer observation, researchers noted anomalies — which may indicate other disorders.
Australian humpback whales Willow and Bahloo, for example, have a few patches of color on their skin. Therefore, they likely suffer from leucism as opposed to albinism. Unlike albinism, animals with leucism may have patches of skin containing pigment.
Another Australian humpback, named Migaloo, is completely white. However, as his eyes are not pink or red, scientists are hesitant to confirm he is a true albino.
It is unknown whether Gallon of Milk the whale is a true albino, as she has only been observed twice in the last eight years. However, as she appears to be completely white, she is assumed to be albino at this time.
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According to CONANP, Gallon of Milk was first observed as a juvenile in 2009. However, an albino gray whale calf was observed with its mother, in the same region, in 2003.
As reported by Lerner.org, the calf was observed during the 2003 gray whale count.
“… The albino baby and his gray mother were first sighted in Guerrero Negro Lagoon on or about February 14th… The whales usually come in to Guerrero Negro Lagoon, wander around for an hour or two, and then go back out to look for the entrance to Laguna Ojo de Liebre, which is a couple miles south. That is precisely what this pair did.”
It is unclear whether the calf observed in 2003 was Gallon of Milk. However, it is noteworthy that Gallon of Milk and her calf were observed in the Laguna Ojo de Liebre 13 years after the albino calf was seen with its mother in the same lagoon.
Although she had been missing for the last eight years, wildlife officials were pleasantly surprised Gallon of Milk the whale returned to the region with her calf. Her continued survival is specifically impressive, as she is unable to camouflage herself from predators. Albino whales also suffer from reduced vision and isolation from other whales.