- The humboldt penguin moulted in one day instead of the usually few weeks
- Ralph was at risk of sunburn and faced a depressing three weeks indoors
- But he is outdoors enjoying life at Marwell Wildlife, Hants, thanks to O'Neill
An international surf firm has come to the rescue of a featherless penguin by creating him a designer wetsuit.
Bald humboldt penguin Ralph, 14, was at risk of sunburn after all his body feathers fell out in just one day - rather than the usual few weeks of moulting.
With nothing to protect him from the weather, the two-foot-tall bird faced a depressing three weeks indoors as he waited for them to grow back.
Custom fit: International surf firm O'Neill came to the rescue by making Ralph his own wetsuit
Unusual: Ralph lost all his feathers in a single day instead of the usual few weeks, leaving him at risk
Great outdoors: Instead of a miserable three weeks indoors, Ralph is splashing around thanks to his wetsuit
But California-based O'Neill has given Ralph a sponsorship deal - usually reserved for international surf and snowboarding stars.
The firm has made a warm and protective wetsuit that offers a snug custom-measured fit and includes holes for his head and wings.
Ralph is now swimming, eating, and playing with the other penguins as usual.
The rubber wetsuit is extremely flexible and does not restrict his movement. It even has his name on the back in large white print.
It was made from the leg of a suit donated by a member of park staff, but three years of swimming and grooming took its toll, leaving it 'tatty', freyed at the edges and coming apart at the seams.
'The warm and protective wetsuit offers a snug custom-measured fit and includes holes for his wings'
Show off: Ralph is the envy of his fellow humboldt penguins thanks to his new designer gear
Protection: Keepers had thought about covering Ralph in suncream but feared it would quickly come off
Special customer: The water-loving mammal has been given a sponsorship deal usually reserved for surf stars
Anna Ing, from Marwell Wildlife, said: 'Ralph was in desperate need of a new wetsuit as his old one was starting to fall apart.
'His wetsuits see a lot of activity with him constantly on the go, swimming, climbing rocks and preening.
'He certainly looks the part with his custom made O'Neill wetsuit.
'He has been preening his wetsuit just as he would if he had feathers and his partner Coral has joined in too.'
Anna added: 'Ralph is a very healthy bird, but for some reason his feathers drop out very quickly, before the new feathers grow back in time.
Comfortable: The 14-year-old penguin has been preening the wetsuit just as he would if he had feathers
Bite to eat: Marwell Wildlife keepers say Ralph is constantly on the go - swimming, climbing and preening
Watchful eye: Every year is different for Ralph, with keepers never sure when he will lose his feathers
'Ralph has had a wetsuit before so he is used to wearing them and acts just like any other penguin in the colony.'
When penguins moult over a period of around three weeks every year their old feathers are replaced with a new, clean set.
But Ralph has baffled keepers by losing all his feathers in just one day, leaving him strangely bald apart from his head.
Keepers initially thought about covering the bird in suncream but reasoned it would quickly come off in the water.
The suit has the added benefit of keeping him warm on cold nights. Visitors are already flocking in to his enclosure to see Ralph parading around in his special gear.
Snug: The wetsuit has the added benefit of keeping Ralph warm during cold nights
Star attraction: Visitors are already flocking to see Ralph and his wetsuit at the Hampshire park
Generous gift: 'It was an absolute pleasure for us to provide Ralph with a new wetsuit'
'In celebration we would like to invite him onto the O'Neill team. After all, he is the ultimate coldwater specialist.'
Humboldt penguins live along the coasts of Peru and Chile within the reaches of the Humboldt Current.
It is a cold current of water running from the Antarctic to the equator, from which they take their name.
Humboldt penguins are thought to be declining in number, possibly due to increasing water temperatures and reducing food supply.
They can live up to 30 years in captivity.