Tag Archives: Natural History Museum


28 Jan



A new colony of 9,000 Emperor Penguins has been visited in Antarctica.

Fascinatingly they were located via satellite images that showed faecal staining on the ice.

The early explorers of 1902 were the first to realise that Emperors could breed in Antarctica. Until then it was thought that no animal would evolve to breed in the

the caterwauling gloom of Antarctica; it was assumed the birds migrated north to breed.

But on Scott’s first expedition Emperor chicks ware found.

Do birds descend from dinosaurs?  In the early 1900s a biologist, Haekel, postulated that the embryos of each animal went through each stage of its early evolution, so it was thought that if early embryos of the Emperor Penguins could be found, there might be vestiges of teeth or scales that would support the theory. This was no small matter. Evidence of this nature might secure the expedition the Darwinian Prize.

Dr Wilson was primarily a scientist.  To investigate this theory was one of his reasons for going on the ‘Terra Nova’ Expedition. He realised, from knowing which month chicks has been found in 1902, that to obtain embryos, he would have to get to the colony in the middle of the Antarctic winter—this was the last unsupported journey to be made in winter months until Sir Ranulph Fiennes present expedition to cross Antarctica –. Wilson went with two companions, one of whom, Cherry- Garrard was to write the sortie up in his famous book, ‘The Worst Journey in the World’, (Cherry-Garrard hoped to die, the conditions were so awful).  The three travelled in darkness, over surfaces that sometimes allowed progress of one mile per day and in temperatures, always well below freezing and on one occasion, minus 76°F. They captured five eggs, but Cherry-Garrard fell and smashed his two.

After the expedition Cherry-Garrard took his precious specimens to the Natural History Museum where, if his account is accurate, they were received with less that enthusiasm. Years later, when they were examined, the theory of descent from dinosaurs was not substantiated.

Wilson thought penguins were very primitive birds because they are flightless. We now know this is not the case. Bur he would not have regretted his expedition. It was made in the true spirit of scientific enquiry. But he would have been very impressed by the ease with which satellite images can locate the elusive creatures and pleased to know that indeed birds ARE descended from dinosaurs.



19 Jan

There is a big Antarctic exhibition at the Natural History Museum. This includes the Emperor Penguin eggs that Wilson, ‘Birdie’ Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrard brought back at such cost from the Emperor colony at Cape Crozier.

The embryos were not found to prove the theory that Wilson was investigating: a link between birds and early reptiles. He was interested in penguin eggs because he thought that penguins were the most primitive of birds (now known to be untrue). When the eggs were examined years later no support for the suggestion was found

I do not think that Wilson would have minded this. Throughout his life his emphasis was on objective scientific research. He would carefully examine any theory before accepting or rejecting it. This expedition was his scientific investigation, he had hoped to examine a series of eggs at the colony. Had he lived to hear the verdict, no connection proved, he would have accepted this calmly as part of God’s plan