Little did Belgian nature photographer Yves Adams know when he set out on a two-month trip to Antarctica that he would be the first to ever take a picture of one of the world’s rarest birds: a yellow penguin.
49-year-old Adams made a brief stop at Salisbury Plain in South Georgia to see a settlement of lord penguins. But amidst the huge crowd of 120,000 black and white penguins, he spotted something unusual. Something yellow.
That’s right. A yellow penguin. The holy grail of all penguins.
“How fortunate could I be! I’d never seen or known about a yellow penguin previously,” Adams said in an interview with Kennedy News. “There were 120,000 birds on that sea shore and this was the solitary yellow one there. I’d been longing for going to South Georgia for a long time since I saw my first David Attenborough narrative and I saw these penguins. It was positively great, even before we saw this yellow penguin. It was remarkable to see a huge number of these birds on a stone in this monstrous, wild sea.”
Adams believes that the penguin’s “golden” color is actually a form of leucism – a hereditary condition similar to albinism. Although unlike albino animals which often exhibit red or blue eyes and completely white skin, leucism causes loss of shading from a creature’s fur, feathers, or scales, without affecting their eyes.
Researchers estimate that leucism may happen in 1 out of 20,000 or 146,000 penguins. These penguins usually don’t survive long as they are often either shunned from the larger group or quickly eating by predators due to standing out so obviously from the rest of the pack. Luckily for our yellow penguin, he was acknowledged by his peers and has survived to adulthood long enough to make penguin history as the first of his kind to be photographed.
Although there was a somewhat similar case in Antarctica a few years ago when a “blonde” penguin was spotted. Some might argue it was more of a brownish color.
“Researchers have noticed a few types of penguins and the impact of isabellinism on penguins, and have discovered that gentoo penguins found all through the Antarctic Peninsula regularly record the most cases.” Dee Boersma, a penguin expert who works with the University of Washington in Seattle, said.