“There seems to be no crime too low for these penguins.”
Such was the observation of British explorer George Murray Levick upon observing the sexual proclivities of a flock of Adélie penguins one hundred years ago. Levick studied the colony while on Robert Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole. Scott’s expedition famously reached the pole on January 17, 1912, 33 days after the team led by Roald Amundsen. The notes on penguin sex, at the time deemed too controversial for release, have recently been published in the journal the Polar Record.
Levick described all manner of “sexual depravity” taking place in the colony, including rape, necrophilia, and sexual abuse. He also recorded instances of masturbation and homosexuality. He believed the work to be so inflammatory that he wrote most of his observations in Greek.
The research, initially limited to about one hundred copies of a pamphlet entitled “Sexual Habits of Adélie Penguins” was recently rediscovered in the archives of the National History Museum in Tring in England. Douglas Russel, who made the discovery, explains more below:
Murray’s notes provide a fascinating snapshot of how scientific treatment of taboo subjects changes over time. Research once too sensational to print now joins the ranks of countless other studies on animal sexuality.