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Mutant 'blonde' penguin spotted in Antarctica

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, August 19, 2014, 2:33 PM - In 2012, researchers on a National Geographic-led expedition came across a rare find.

Video of the discovery -- i.e., a healthy-looking 'blonde' penguin -- was published to YouTube Monday, where it has been steadily gaining traction online.

While the bird looks like an albino, experts say it has isabellinism -- a rare genetic mutation that dilutes the pigment in the penguin's feathers, turning them blonde.

Some wildlife experts are referring to the bird as "leucistic", a separate -- albeit similar -- condition that's often used interchangeably with isabellinism.

RELATED: How one penguin could change conservation efforts forever

"Many species of penguins have a few rare individuals with this colour pattern,"  penguin expert P. Dee Boersma told National Geographic.

Some suspect the odd colouration could be a disadvantage.

After all, the black and white feathers normally found on penguins act as camouflage, preventing them from being seen by predators (and prey) when swimming.

While isabellinism can make life in the water a bit of a challenge, experts have observed penguins with isabellinism breeding normally in the wild.

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