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P—P—P—Pick Up a Penguin: Men and Animals in Antarctic Exploration

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On 22 July 2003 marine biologist Kirsty Brown was attacked by a leopard seal whilst snorkelling at the British Antarctic Survey's Rothera Research Station and drowned. The coroner noted the dangers inherent in conducting research in the Antarctic. One of the short term projects of the charity founded in her name will be to study the behaviour of leopard seals. Ninety years previously Apsley Cherry-Garrard advocated giving seals a heavy blow with a stick to stun them and then stabbing them in the heart in order to kill them (Cherry-Garrard 1994: 165): their livers and kidneys had become expeditionary favourites. A relationship changes…

On 3 August 1895 delegates at the Sixth International Geographical Congress at the Imperial Institute in London passed a resolution declaring ‘that this Congress records its opinion that the exploration of the Antarctic regions is the greatest piece of geographical exploration still to be undertaken’ (Huntford 2000: 49). Thus commenced the so-called ‘heroic era’ of Antarctic exploration: over the next twenty years ships from Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, France, Japan and Australia journeyed south. Amongst British parties were those of Carsten Borchgrevink (Southern Cross, 1898– 1900), the first to over-winter on the continent; Robert Falcon Scott (Discovery, 1901–04, and Terra Nova, 1910–13); Ernest Shackleton (Nimrod, 1907–09, and Endurance, 1914–17). Early expeditions frequently arrived ill-prepared. After initial sledging escapades in 1902 Scott noted: ‘[t]he errors were patent; food, clothing, everything was wrong, the whole system was bad’ (Scott 2001a: 273). The quest for an effective system – a combination of shelter, clothing, equipment, nutrition and transport that would ensure survival and the success of exploratory and scientific enterprises in the coldest, driest, windiest environment on earth – came to preoccupy explorers. Some employed the latest technology, with varying success: the ‘Primus’ stove became a mainstay whilst motor vehicles failed (Norris 1993: 48–49).
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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