A rare, almost all-white grey whale will likely be paying B.C.'s Vancouver Island a visit in the nearby future. The whale, named Galon De Leche, or “Gallon of Milk,” was recently spotted for the first time in seven years off the coast of Mexico–this time with a newborn calf–where she should be getting ready to migrate north.
John Ford, head of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' Cetacean Research Program in Nanaimo, says it is unknown why this whale is named Gallon of Milk, but is most likely because if its size and milky looking pigmentation. Here, he discusses the unusual cetacean.
Why is Gallon of Milk this colour?
It is likely a genetic anomaly, probably either albinism or leucism. Albinistic animals have red or pink eye colour, leucistic have normal eye colour. It could also be Chediak Higashi syndrome, which is known in killer whales.
Why are white whales so rare?
It is a rare recessive genetic trait, so only occurs when both parents have the gene. They may also be only rarely seen because young white-coloured whales may be more vulnerable to predation. If Chediak Higashi syndrome, the immune system is compromised and the animals typically don’t live very long.
Why was this the first sighting in seven years?
Assuming the whale seen seven years ago is the same one, it’s probably because she simply was missed. There are about 20,000 animals in the population, so the chance of not sighting one individual is fairly high.
Why was she spotted now?
As a new mother, she probably entered more deeply into the breeding lagoons in Baja than as a non-breeder. There is whale watching activity and researchers in the lagoons, thus she had a greater chance of being seen.
Why is she migrating to British Columbia?
Grey whales are strongly migratory, swimming between summer and fall feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi seas and winter breeding lagoons along the coast of Baja California. The northward migration occurs in March-May, and the whales swim within 10 km or so of the coastline.
Should we expect to see more whales like this on their way to Canada?
It’s possible but unlikely. They are very rare.
How visible will they be? Where in Canada will they be most visible?
They would be most likely seen by whale watchers off the west coast of Vancouver Island mostly from boat trips out of Tofino or Ucluelet. The rest of the British Columbia coast is remote and there are very few people there to spot grey whales.