Tag Archives: Penguins


26 Jan

Penguins were of great interest to the early Antarctic explorers, but where does the word come from?
Alastair Ross,a medical student, went with William Speirs Bruce on the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition as taxidermist. He made notes and a comprehensive log book on the birds they saw, particularly penguins. (W.S.Bruce.National Museum of Scotland, Box 5, File 53)
He too was interested in the derivation of ‘penguin’ and made quotes from “A Dictionary of Birds” by Alfred Newton (as cited by Hans Gadout in 1894).
There are 3 suggestions;
a) The word comes from the Welsh pengwyn “white head”. This is questioned—penguins don’t have white heads, there is no evidence of a Welsh discovery of the birds and anyway, it is thought unlikely that even if the Welsh did discover penguins, they would have persuaded English sailers to use the term.
b)”Penguin” derives from the Latin pinguis (fat). This is thought unlikely.
c) Apparently the word was first applied the the Great Auk of North America and a plausible theory is that the name is a corruption of “pin-wing” meaning that the bird had been pinioned (immobilised) and referring to its rudimentary wings. The Auk was seen in the 1500s and the name “pin-wing” was given to the birds in North and South America and, after this to the Southern penguins.
This seems a reasonable suggestion and as modern dictionaries throw no further light on the mystery, I am sticking to it.


30 Dec

Commercial exploitation follows potentially profitable discoveries.  Could Antarctica become a commercial necessity, a victim to mans’ quest for profit? – a pursuit independent of any consideration of damage? Antarctica’s very inaccessibility gives some protection to her riches, but the future is worrying.

In the 1800s, seals and whales in the Arctic were hunted to virtual extinction. Seal fur was prized and blubber from the animals was rendered down to be used for lighting.  This wholesale slaughter diminished stocks to a non-profitable level, so the lure of commercial advantage, plus the spirit of adventure drew sailors and whalers towards the South. Nations were not slow in wanting to cash in on any possible resources in the unknown continent: By the early1900s Russia, Germany, America, South American Countries, France, Sweden, Scotland, England, Norway and Australia (amongst others), had been near or on Antarctica and those explorers who landed, always staked their claim to territorial rights.

The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 was the international agreement that set aside these territorial claims and agreed on the principal of international cooperation for peaceful collaboration in scientific research, protection of plants and animals and conservation of the environment. A ban on mining was imposed by the 1991 Protocol 0n Environmental Protection. This will be reviewed in 2048

But Antarctica is now known to have many tempting prizes: huge reserves of oil, natural gas, minerals such as iron oil and magnesium, enormous reserves of fresh water and an abundant marine life: whales, seals, penguins. Small animals: limpets, crabs, snails and most importantly krill, abound.   Unsurprisingly, she is now the victim of a vigorous if undeclared race to benefit from this huge potential. Already populations of whales have diminished significantly. Japan is frequently in the news in relation to the killing of hundreds of whales, ostensibly for scientific reasons. Also, the krill and small crustaceans,  staple food for the animals, have been trawled (krill for health supplements and for fish farm food) their numbers decrease. Oil is a most powerful magnate to countries with few reserves..  .

The Antarctic Treaty allowed Antarctica not only to remain a continent of peace but it expanded to areas such as environmental protection. Pressures to amend sections of the treaty will no doubt be powerful and immense and further ratification will be needed, not only to protect the ecology of the region but to protect Antarctica as a natural wilderness, free from mens’ exploitation.