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Planet Earth

The Year in Science: Animals 1997

White Penguin Spotted

By Kathy A SvitilJanuary 1, 1998 6:00 AM


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The little bird in this photo is a juvenile emperor penguin, discovered last winter on sea ice in Antarctica’s western Ross Sea. Emperor chicks normally have a grayish down coat with dark wing and tail feathers, a dark bill and feet, and rings around their eyes. This chick—it was about five months old when biologist Gerald Kooyman of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography found it—is completely white, except for its brown or black eyes. (So it’s not an albino, which would have pink eyes.) We have seen birds that were partially white, says Kooyman, who has been studying penguins for some 30 years, but never an all-white bird. It’s unlikely that Kooyman will ever see this particular bird again. Soon after he discovered it, the bird fledged—it left the colony and embarked on a 2,000- to 3,000-mile hunting journey to the southern edge of the Pacific through hostile, predator-filled waters. The bird may not return home for four or five years—if it comes back at all. I’d say its chances are not as good as another juvenile’s, says Kooyman, because of the coloration—it would certainly stand out like a beacon in deep water.

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