Tag: Antarctica

Secret, Censored 100-Year-Old Manuscript Reveals Penguins' Sexual "Crimes"

By Sophie Bushwick | June 11, 2012 3:39 pm

Adélie penguins
Adélie penguin chicks chase an adult.

Penguins are undeniably adorable. What other animal waddles around in a little tuxedo? But don’t let that cute exterior fool you: on a 1910–1913 Antarctic expedition, surgeon and zoologist George Levick bore witness to some surprising sexual behaviors of Adélie penguins, including coerced sex and necrophilia. In fact, the paper he wrote on the penguins’ sexual habits was considered too explicit to be published during the Edwardian era, and has only recently been rediscovered after spending almost a century hidden away in the Natural History Museum at Tring.

Levick travelled to Antarctica with Captain Robert Scott’s 1910 Terra Nova expedition, where he spent 12 weeks in the world’s largest Adélie penguin colony at Cape Adare, observing the birds, taking photographs, and even collecting nine penguin skins. After his return, Levick used his daily zoological notes as source material for two published penguin studies, one for the general public and a more scientific one to be included in the expedition’s official report. Intriguingly, this second account includes vague references to “’hooligan’ cocks” preying on chicks. Levick merely writes, “The crimes which they commit are such as to find no place in this book, but it is interesting indeed to note that, when nature intends them to find employment, these birds, like men, degenerate in idleness.”

Now, modern-day researchers have discovered that Levick did in fact describe the hooligans’ crimes in the paper, “The sexual habits of the Adélie penguin.” This paper was expunged from his official account, probably because it was too disturbing for Edwardian mores. Levick himself covered some explicit passages of his personal notes with coded versions, rewritten in the Greek alphabet and pasted over the original entries. Although the paper was withheld from the official record, researchers at the Natural History Museum did preserve it in pamphlet form, printing 100 copies labeled, “Not for Publication.” But most of the originals have been lost or destroyed, and no later works on Adélie penguins cited this paper until recently, when researchers in the Bird Group at the National History Museum at Tring discovered one of the original pamphlets in their reprints section.

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Hearty Penguin Steaks: the Old-School Explorers' Salve for Scurvy

By Sarah Zhang | February 2, 2012 11:12 am

spacing is important
An Emperor penguin being skinned on board the Endurance.

Imagine you’re in Antarctica. It’s cold. You’re cold. Your joints ache, old wounds are reopening to ooze pus, and your teeth loosen, threatening to fall out one or two at a time. What do you feel like eating? How about “a piece of beef, odiferous cod fish and a canvas-backed duck roasted together in a pot, with blood and cod-liver oil for sauce?”

If this sounds delicious, then your stomach serves you well. That’s how famous polar explorer Frederick Cook described the taste of penguin meat, and that is how you cure yourself of scurvy in Antarctica when fresh vegetables are nowhere to be found. Fresh meat—lightly cooked or raw—contains vitamin C, whose deficiency causes scurvy and the delightful symptoms described above.

Unfortunately for turn-of-the-century Antarctic explorers, most expedition leaders were not as enlightened as Cook and many a man succumbed to scurvy. Unfortunately for Antarctica’s penguins, they were also easy prey for the men who did eat them. “Long lines of curious penguins marched across the ice and right into camp, which almost always meant death as dog food, human food, or fuel for the boiler. A stew of penguin heart and liver became a crew favorite,” describes Jason C. Anthony in a paper on Antarctic cuisine in the Heroic Age in Endeavour.

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Google Street View Goes to Antarctica, Brings Maps to the Penguins

By Jennifer Welsh | October 1, 2010 5:54 pm

penguins-latlongGoogle’s expansion of its Street View project to all seven continents has the sweet reward of allowing you to visit Antarctica while sitting on your couch in your leopard-print snuggie. (They also filled in the holes of Ireland and Brazil, but much as we love those countries, Antarctica is still more exciting.)

Ed Parsons, Google’s geospatial technologist, told The Guardian that this feat was “hugely significant” to the Goog:

“One of the challenges we wanted to crack is to go to these remote places, and one of geo team at Google went to Antarctica so he took some kit and took some imagery. It’s called Street View, but there aren’t many streets in Antarctica,” he said. “This allows people to understand the contrast between New York Times Square and being on the edge of a glacier looking at penguins.”

It’s also making the chinstrap penguins and red-parka’d researchers that inhabit the island the victims of some pretty intense privacy invasion. The images were shot in Half Moon Island, a part of the South Shetland Island chain in the northern most part of the continent, under South America.

You can explore the colony and other views of the earth on Google’s Street View gallery. The Antarctica views were shot by Google’s own Brian McClendon, vice-president of engineering, who carried around a camera while visiting the area with his wife. He announced the new features in a blog post, saying:

We hope this new imagery will help people in Ireland, Brazil, and even the penguins of Antarctica to navigate nearby, as well as enable people around the world to learn more about these areas.

Related content:
Discoblog: Confused (and Injured) Pedestrian Sues Google Maps Over Bad Directions
Discoblog: Pedestrian-Removing Software Makes for a Creepy Google Streetview
80beats: Researchers Use Feather “Fingerprints” to Track Penguins
Not Exactly Rocket Science: A fossil penguin gets its colours
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Are emperor penguins marching to extinction?
DISCOVER: Big Picture: 5 Reasons Science [Hearts] Google
DISCOVER: The Coolest Science Experiments in Antarctica (PICS)

Image: Google Maps

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

World’s Coolest Repairman: The Guy Who Services Antarctica’s ATMs

By Joseph Calamia | July 22, 2010 12:31 pm

atminsideResearchers at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station may face annual average temperatures of minus .4 degrees Fahrenheit and drifting snow of depths around five feet–but at least they have easy access to cash. Since around 1998, Antarctica has had an operating ATM.

The blog NeedCoffeeDotCom interviewed a Wells Fargo representative about the challenges of keeping an Antarctic ATM working. According to a vice president in the ATM banking division, David Parker, there are actually two of the machines in the remote McMurdo Station, but one serves exclusively as a back-up that can be “cannibalized” for parts in case the other fails. The machine recycles the station’s limited cash supply, since–beyond chucking dollar bills at penguins–there aren’t many things to do with cash outside the snug walls of McMurdo.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

How Antarctica's Scientists Chill Out: With a Rugby Match on the Ice

By Eliza Strickland | March 23, 2010 12:10 pm
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rugby-1

At the foot of an active volcano 900 miles from the South Pole, Tom Leard leads a fearless band of men and women over a battlefield of frozen sea, beneath a relentless sun. Ash billows out from the peak behind them as they approach their enemies, who stand staggered across the barren stretch of ice, clad in black from head to toe.

“Don’t let them in your heads,” Leard tells his motley crew of carpenters, engineers, and service workers. “We’re the underdogs, but if we support each other, we can win.”

Here, on a January day in Antarctica’s frozen McMurdo Sound, Leard and company have come for the latest installment of a decades-long tradition: A rugby match, played between the American and New Zealand research bases, on a field of sea ice 10 feet thick.

Just a few miles away, scientists lead some of the world’s most exotic research projects, taking advantage of the extreme conditions on Earth’s coldest, driest and iciest continent. After a long week studying cold-adapted bacteria or the diving physiology of elephant seals, the scientists and staff take Sunday off to relax. But this is no ordinary Sunday.

Today’s match is the 26th in the series—which New Zealand leads, 25-0. Zero is also the number of ‘tries’—rugby’s equivalent of touchdowns—the Americans have scored in the history of the rivalry, which is the southernmost rugby game in the world.

Nearby McMurdo Station, operated by the United States, is home to over 1,000 summertime residents, a few dozen of whom have donned red, white and blue uniforms in support of their country. McMurdo is the largest station on the continent, far larger than neighboring Scott Base, which houses fewer than 100 New Zealanders—but that doesn’t stop New Zealand from fielding a winning team year after year.

Text and photos by Chaz Firestone. Click through for more photos and the rest of the story.


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To Track Penguins, Scientists Use High-Tech Satellite Images of…Droppings

By Allison Bond | June 2, 2009 1:19 pm

penguinWhen emperor penguins are in your vicinity, their signature tuxedos and waddling gaits make them hard to miss. But when scientists from the British Antarctic Survey tried to track Antarctic emperor penguin populations using satellites, the birds proved too small to be seen. That’s when they got the idea to focus on something much larger and darker than the penguins themselves: the stains left by their feces.

Using the patches of poop as a guide, the scientists examined the Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica and spotted 38 penguin colonies, including 10 that had never before been recorded.

Emperor penguins, which starred in the adorable documentary March of the Penguins, are at risk of becoming endangered if climate change threatens their habitat and food supply. In fact, populations in some of the colonies could drop by 95 percent by 2010.

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