Lost Century-Old Report On Penguin Sexuality Published
June 11, 2012

Lost Century-Old Report On Penguin Sexuality Published

A previously unreleased study detailing the lewd and lascivious sexual behaviors of penguins, compiled during Captain Robert Scott's South Pole in the early 1900s, has finally been published after being suppressed for nearly a century because of explicit content.

The paper, "The Sexual Habits of the Adélie Penguins," was written in 1915 by Dr. George Levick, a surgeon and medical officer during Scott's legendary 1910-1913 Antarctic expedition. His observations on the sex lives of those flightless birds was deemed "too graphic for society" and "too explicit" at the time, so it was not published with the rest of the expedition's reports, the UK's Natural History Museum said on Saturday.

Even so, 100 copies of Levick's pamphlet were preserved, and the work was all but forgotten about until one of just two remaining copies was recently discovered, by accident, at the Natural History Museum by bird curator Douglas Russell, BBC News Science Reporter Matt McGrath wrote on Saturday.

"I just happened to be going through the file on George Murray Levick when I shifted some papers and found underneath them this extraordinary paper which was headed 'the sexual habits of the adelie penguin, not for publication' in large black type," Russell, who helped have the complete and unedited work published in the journal Polar Record, told McGrath.

"It's just full of accounts of sexual coercion, sexual and physical abuse of chicks, non-procreative sex, and finishes with an account of what he considers homosexual behavior, and it was fascinating," he added. "He's just completely shocked. He, to a certain extent, falls into the same trap as an awful lot of people in seeing penguins as bipedal birds and seeing them as little people. They're not. They are birds and should be interpreted as such."

According to a June 9 AFP story detailing the discovery, Levick was the first (and to date, the only) scientist ever to observe an entire penguin breeding cycle at Cape Adare, having spent the summer of 1911-12 there. While Scott and four other members of his expedition died after reaching the South Pole in 1912, Levick and five others survived and returned, with his report, to England.

"Levick's notes were decades ahead of their time and possibly the first ever attempt to reveal the more challenging aspects of bird behavioral strategies to the academic world," Russell said in a statement. "I'm very pleased that, 97 years after Levick submitted it for publication, the study has finally been published."