In mid-January, the Lindbald Expeditions-National Geographic Journey to Antarctica cruise passed the South Shetland Islands. The passengers were in for a special treat when David Stevens, a naturalist and member of the expedition team, spotted an albino penguin on the edge of the island.
Leucistic or albino penguins are rare, but not unheard of. In fact, four years ago an albino Adelie penguin was photographed in Antarctica. Though the penguin found on the South Shetland Island varies greatly from others in the same breed, the Lindbald Expeditions blog reports that the penguin has pigmented-eyes and appears to be “washed-out” rather than albino. Either way this is one cute albino penguin, but unfortunately, its future seems bleak.
The albino appearance of these rare birds is said to be caused by a genetic mutation. Reports from Marine Ornithology say that the mutation causes the pigments in their feathers to lighten. Because of the light colored feathers, these penguins’ survival rate is low. Predators can easily spot their odd hue. Some researchers have also thought that their white feathers may prohibit these blonde penguins from bonding with others.
Unfortunately, the blonde penguins’ survival rate does not always improve when in captivity, protected from predators. In 2002, Bristol Zoo Gardens in England announced the hatching of an albino African penguin appropriately named Snowdrop. This albino-like penguin was suspected to be the first born in a zoo. Although born healthy, Snowdrop suddenly died in 2004 (possibly due to a genetic disorder.)
The pale penguin in Antarctica has definitely caught the world’s attention. These albino-like birds are definitely cute. And these rare sightings aren’t limited to all-white penguins only. Two years ago, in Antarctica, Andrew Evans, also of National Geographic, photographed an all-black King penguin.