Polar Penguin Prudes

In 1910, on an ill-fated expedition to the South Pole, a British biologist observed the activities of adelie penguins.  He was shocked by what he viewed as depraved acts by the penguins — so much so that he recorded his observations in Greek. His later paper on the topic was so disturbing to the pre-World War II sensibilities of the British scientific community that it was never published.

The paper has been discovered in the files of the British Natural History Museum and published in the journal Polar Record.  The biologist, Dr. George Murray Levick, recorded incidents of sexual coercion, physical and sexual abuse of penguin chicks, non-procreative sex, and apparent homosexual liaisons among the penguins — but what he found most “depraved” was attempts by male penguins to mate with dead females.  (According to modern biologists, the latter conduct is explained by the fact that female adelie penguins indicate their readiness for sex by assuming a certain position, and if a dead female’s body happens to assume that same position, the male penguins have a sexual reaction and just can’t help themselves.)

It’s hard to imagine that a biologist would be morally troubled by the conduct of birds or animals, but the extreme sexual inhibitions of Victorian and Edwardian England were pervasive.  Anyone who has lived with dogs knows that you can’t assign human sensibilities to animals that think nothing of sniffing the rear ends of fellow pooches, eating rabbit droppings for a snack, or dry-humping a visitor’s leg.  You would think that penguins would be given a special break in view of the fact that they live on barren rocks in frozen climates without much else to occupy their thoughts.  After all, you can only do so much swimming or eat so many fish.

Scotch (Kept) On Ice

I’ve written before about the case of scotch found buried in the ice beneath a cabin set up during Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole.  Now the crate of scotch is being thawed — ever so slowly — in New Zealand.

Apparently none of the scotch will be consumed, although distillers will get to examine samples to see if they can replicate the mixture from which the booze was made.  Mackinlay’s, the distillery that made the scotch, was long ago acquired by another distillery, and no one is quite sure about the original recipe for the scotch Shackleton took down to Antarctica.

I’m all in favor of preserving historical materials, but I think it would be appropriate to crack open just one of the 11 bottles in the crate, pour a round of drinks, and tip back a toast to Shackleton and his hardy band of adventurers.  After all, they thought enough of Mackinlay’s scotch to cart it thousands of miles and carefully store it for further consumption.  Why not at least use some of it as was intended?

Scotch On Ice

I enjoy the unusual news stories you see from time to time, like this one:  it turns out that, during explorer Ernest Shackleton’s unsuccessful expedition to reach the South Pole between 1907 and 1909, he buried two crates of scotch whiskey in the ice beneath his headquarters hut.  When the expedition was abandoned, the scotch was left there for 100 years.  It was discovered three years ago, and now they are getting ready to extract the crates from the ice.  The distiller of the scotch is interested in getting a sample to see how it was blended and whether the blend can be recreated.

All of this is very interesting, but what is most interesting is that explorers looking to reach the South Pole, in an expedition where every ounce of material had to be transported over miles of frigid, desolate wasteland, nevertheless took two crates of booze.  That fact is somewhat telling, because the expedition ran out of supplies only 100 miles from the Pole.  If they had taken two more crates of food or other necessaries, rather than the hooch, they might have made history.  In those days, however, an expedition without an ample supply of scotch apparently was unthinkable.