The bird has a form of pigmentation condition called Isabellinism which dilutes the genetic pigment of its feathers.
Penguins are a common sight in the South Pole. But tourists onboard the Journey to Antarctica cruise ship, were shocked to find one that didn't have the normal black and white coat. The featherless bird spotted in the South Shetland Islands instead was "blonde" according to National Geographic. Among the people on the ship was David Stephens, a naturalist who said they were all astonished at the sight of a rare penguin. It was first thought that the bird had Albinism (the inability of the body to produce melanin) or Leucism (low production of melanin). Penguins with both the conditions have been spotted before.
But P. Dee Boersma from the University of Washington in Seattle believed the rare blonde penguin had neither. She said it had a rarer condition called isabellinism which dilutes the genetic pigment of its feathers leading to the rare color of the bird's blonde-like coat. The professor elaborated on this condition in a paper she published in 2009 in Marine Ornithology journal and highlighted Isabellinism leads to the "uniform lightening" of a bird's dark colors. This in turn leads to a pale brown or grayish-yellow of its plumage and coat, it highlighted further. This is not at all good for the bird's survival since the black and white coat acts as camouflage against predators and for their prey, in water, she commented.
She also does acknowledge this particular aspect of the effect of the coat's color in the penguin's survival needs to be researched further since no studies have yet been done. Stephens said in the same vein that "many wondered about this unusual bird's chances of success." He, however, added: "while odd coloration may make fishing a bit more difficult" such "birds are regularly found breeding normally." Boersma said, "Many species of penguins have a few rare individuals with this color pattern." Leucism is sometimes used interchangeably with Isabellinism. But Boersma highlighted there were other species of penguins that have the latter condition.
One of them is a gentoo penguin of the Antarctic Peninsula. Another species is the Magellanic penguins, which inhabit the South American coasts, although the condition has occurred the lowest among this species. In 2019, a zoo in Poland unveiled a 3-month old albino penguin at the Gdansk zoo. The African black-foot penguin was born on December 14 in the zoo. "As far as we know, there is no other such specimen alive (in captivity) in the world," said Michal Targowski, director at the Gdansk Zoo, at the time of the bird's birth. The penguin was kept with a group of six adults, including its parents, to ensure its survival. The family was also a part of a group of 70 penguins at the zoo.
"We're really doting on him so that nothing bad happens to him", Targowski, explained. This species of penguins have been listed as endangered since 2010. Then there was this rare encounter by a tourist of leucitic gentoo penguin in the crowded shores of South Georgia Island. He described the occurrence as "one in a colony of millions" and "nothing short of thrilling."