Yellow penguin sighted for ‘first time ever’ in South Atlantic

‘It was heaven that he landed by us ... a show of a lifetime,’ says wildlife photographer

Jane Dalton
Friday 19 February 2021 18:12
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<p>The bird’s cells no longer create melanin  </p>

The bird’s cells no longer create melanin

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A yellow-and-white penguin with no black on it has been spotted for what is thought to be the first time ever.

A wildlife photographer captured shots of the “never before seen” bird among thousands of black-and-white penguins on a South Atlantic island.

Yves Adams 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.”

Mr Adams, from Belgium, was leading a two-month expedition in December 2019 when they stopped on an island in South Georgia to photograph a colony of at least 120,000 king penguins, and spotted the bright plumage.

He said: “They all looked normal except for this one. It really was something else. It was an incredibly unique experience.

“One of the birds looked really strange, and when I looked closer it was yellow. We all went crazy when we realised. We dropped all the safety equipment and grabbed our cameras.

“We were so lucky the bird landed right where we were. Our view wasn’t blocked by a sea of massive animals. Normally it’s almost impossible to move on this beach because of them all.”

He said it was a “leucistic” penguin, whose cells no longer create melanin, so its black feathers become a yellow and creamy colour.

“It was heaven that he landed by us. If it had been 50 metres away, we wouldn’t have been able to get this show of a lifetime.”

Scientists suspect the sighting represents the discovery of a new class of feather pigment.

In 2012, a “white” penguin was spotted in a chinstrap penguin colony in Antarctica. Its condition was thought to be a from genetic mutation that dilutes pigment in penguins’ feathers.

Researcher Daniel Thomas told the Smithsonian Insider: “Penguins use the yellow pigment to attract mates and we strongly suspect that the yellow molecule is synthesised internally.

“[It’s] distinct from any of the five known classes of avian plumage pigmentation and represents a new sixth class of feather pigment.”

After the sighting, Mr Adams continued his expeditions for another eight weeks, leaving him with thousands of photos to trawl through, which meant he has released the photos only now.

“I took thousands of photos during that time, especially as the time of year meant it never went dark in the Antarctic,” he said.

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