From the National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica
David Stephens, a naturalist aboard Lindblad Expeditions' National Geographic Explorer ship, photographed this rare white Chinstrap penguin on Monday on Antarctica's Aitcho Islands.
"At the water’s edge stood a leucistic Chinstrap," Stephens wrote in the ship's daily expedition report. "This bird was whitish, but not quite an albino. Instead, it had pigmented eyes and a washed-out version of a Chinstrap’s normal pattern. Many wondered about this unusual bird’s chances of success. While odd coloration may make fishing a bit more difficult, leucistic birds are regularly found breeding normally."
A leucistic bird has reduced pigmention, unlike a bird with albinism, which is a lack of skin pigment. The standard black-and-white coloring found on penguins serves as camouflage that aids the bird in fishing, so it's unusual to find a penguin without it.
“It is a fairly rare phenomenon,” said Dyan deNapoli, a penguin expert and author of "The Great Penguin Rescue," who added that the rate of leucism in Chinstrap penguins is about 1 in 146,000. "When I was in Antarctica, I never saw one, and I saw a lot of penguins."
Lindblad Expeditions is an expedition travel company in alliance with National Geographic. Its flagship, the National Geographic Explorer, accommodates 148 guest on voyages to the two polar regions and various nations. Each ship in the fleet carries National Geographic-certified photography instructors, who offer tips to passengers. Voyages focus on the wildlife, nature and culture.
The National Geographic Explorer is currently in the middle of a 14-day voyage to Antarctica. (Source)
David Stephens daily expedition report
Finishing our transit of the Drake Passage was a delight. A few mild rollers stirred the ship just enough to let us know that we were afloat. This waterway, of fearsome reputation, couldn’t have been kinder!
By nine in the morning, land was in view. Our first sight of the South Shetlands was not very inviting. As is often the case, the islands were obscured by fog, with an unpleasant drizzly snowfall. Rocks off the islands jutted dangerously from the sea, and the islands themselves had a dreary aspect. Yet, after what seemed a long time at sea, we looked hungrily at the land, and were eager to step ashore. And soon we did, at one of the Aitcho Islands.
Color tells us much about life in Antarctica. At first glance the island seemed crazily verdant, as if some chunk of the Serengeti had been unexpectedly dropped into an icy world. The island is covered in Antarctic “old growth” – moss and lichens several millimeters high! But most of us had eyes only for penguins. Gentoos strutted about the beach, and sat nearby on their pebbly nests. Each nest was surrounded by radiating streaks of white, giving them a cheery flower-like design. White droppings suggest a diet of fish or squid. Gentoos, the most temperate of the Antarctic penguins, can be recognized by their white headband and orange “lips.” Higher on the island we found pink nesting grounds – the color indicating the presence of dedicated krill-feeders. These were the territories of the Chinstrap penguins. Chinstraps are rendered all in black and white, but for their baleful deep red eyes.
Despite colorful variation in facial patterns, all penguins are decked in the standard black and white pattern. This is no accident. Counter-shading camouflage in so necessary to diving birds that all are fundamentally alike. But to our astonishment we found an exception. At the water’s edge stood a leucistic Chinstrap. This bird was whitish, but not quite an albino. Instead, it had pigmented eyes and a washed-out version of a Chinstrap’s normal pattern. Many wondered about this unusual bird’s chances of success. While odd coloration may make fishing a bit more difficult, leucistic birds are regularly found breeding normally.
In the afternoon we made our way across the Bransfield Strait on our way to the Weddell Sea. We slowed to travel with a humpback whale. Though once heavily hunted here, humpbacks have made the beginnings of a comeback – a pattern we hope other species will someday repeat. This whale allowed a close approach, and we had fine views of it. And then, southward, to bigger ice, larger penguin colonies, and spacious exploration. (Source)
NOTE: We also remember that in 2007 After more than 30 years of studying penguins in Antarctica, a scientist at UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported what is believed to be the first sighting of an all-white emperor penguin.
The white colour of this penguin is the result of a genetic accident. It is not an albino, as it has brown, rather than pink eyes.