King penguins, the second-largest penguin species, typically sport a distinct black-and-white coat with a yellowish-gold dash of color on their collar. However, one young penguin in the South Atlantic appears to have missed the memo on the dress code. It decided to forgo the black feathers and retain just the bright yellow plumage.
Belgian wildlife photographer Yves Adams, who recently posted the now-viral images on his Instagram account, said he spotted the unusual penguin in 2019. The 43-year-old was leading a two-month-long photography expedition through Antarctica and the South Atlantic when the group decided to make an impromptu stop on the island of South Georgia. Located in the South Atlantic, the remote, inhospitable landmass boasts the world's largest King penguin crèche — a colony of hundreds of thousands of birds that huddle together for warmth and safety.
After landing at Salisbury Plain — a broad coastal plain on South Georgia's north coast — Adams was unpacking the safety equipment when he suddenly spotted a group of King penguins swimming ashore. Among them was a youngster with bright yellow plumage, instead of the typical black feathers.
"While unpacking our rubber boats merely after landing on a remote beach on the island of South-Georgia, this leucistic King penguin walked up straight to our direction in the middle of a chaos full of Sea elephants and Antarctic fur seals, and thousands of other King penguins," Adams wrote in his Instagram post. "How lucky could I be!"
The stunning bird, which landed close to Adams, seemed to be in no rush to leave, allowing him to capture numerous close-up images. The photographer said: "I'd never seen or heard of a yellow penguin before. There were 120,000 birds on that beach, and this was the only yellow one there."
While some unusual penguin coloring can be attributed to injury, diet, or disease, most are due to mutations in the bird's genes. Adam believes the yellow bird has leucism – a genetic condition in which only some of the melanin is lost. Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist and professor at the University of Washington who was not a part of the expedition, agrees with the assessment. In an email to Live Science, the expert said since the bird had a brown head, it had retained some of its pigment and was therefore not a "true albino."
However, Kevin McGraw, an integrative behavioral ecologist at Arizona State University, who also wasn't part of the expedition, does not agree. He believes that the lack of melanin in the bird's plumage, feet, and eyes indicates that it is albino. While the expert may not agree on the reason for the unusual yellow coloring, he is mesmerized by the bird. "I'm not aware of many other images or birds like this," McGraw said. "I've been fascinated by this photo."
The yellow penguin is not the only member of its species making headlines. An enthralling video of a whale pod in pursuit of a gentoo penguin along Antarctica's coast is going viral as well. Also captured in 2019, the 4-minute-long footage, taken by travel blogger & photographer Matthew Karsten, starts with the killer whales gliding alongside the tourist boats. However, the peaceful scene turns chaotic as soon as the massive mammals spot the tiny penguin bobbing along. What happens next has to be seen to be believed. Happy viewing!
Resources: Kennedynewsandmedia, LiveScience.com