Landmark polar research about the Adelie penguin’s sex life by Captain Scott’s expedition, deemed too shocking for the public 100 years ago, is unearthed at the Natural History Museum
It was the sight of a young male Adelie penguin attempting to have sex with a dead female that particularly unnerved George Murray Levick, a scientist with the 1910-13 Scott Antarctic Expedition. No such observation had ever been recorded before, as far as he knew, and Levick, a typical Edwardian Englishman, was horrified. Blizzards and freezing cold were one thing. Penguin perversion was another.
Worse was to come, however. Levick spent the Antarctic summer of 1911-12 observing the colony of Adelies at Cape Adare, making him the only scientist to this day to have studied an entire breeding cycle there. During that time, he witnessed males having sex with other males and also with dead females, including several that had died the previous year. He also saw them sexually coerce females and chicks and occasionally kill them.
Levick blamed this “astonishing depravity” on “hooligan males” and wrote down his observations in Greek so that only an educated gentleman would understand the horrors he had witnessed. Back in Britain he produced a paper (in English), titled Natural History of the Adelie Penguin. However, the section about the animal’s sexual proclivities was deemed to be so shocking it was removed to preserve decency. Levick then used this material as the basis for a separate short paper, Sexual Habits of the Adelie Penguin, which was privately circulated among a handful of experts.
In fact, Levick’s observations turned out to be well ahead of their time. Scientists had to wait another 50 years before the remarkable sexual antics of the Adelie were revealed. By this time his pamphlet and its detailed records of Adelie shenanigans had been lost to science .
But now a copy of Sexual Habits of the Adelie Penguin has been unearthed, thanks to sleuthing by Douglas Russell, curator of birds at the Natural History Museum, who discovered a copy among records of the work of Scott’s expeditions and has had it published in the journal Polar Record, with an accompanying analysis of Levick’s work…
“Perverted” Adelie penguins perform homosexual acts, necrophilia, rape, pedophilia, and all manner of depraved acts. “Little hooligan bands of half a dozen or more and hang about the outskirts of the knolls, whose inhabitants they annoy by their constant acts of depravity.” Apparently, the dirty birds in question are immature males who don’t know how to get it on correctly. I can just imagine how mortifying it was for a “gentleman” to witness such acts one hundred years ago. They are cute little birds, though.