Image: Dr George Murray Levick’s observations of Adélie penguins were recorded in his notebook. Photograph: R Kossow/Natural History Museum

In 1910 Dr. George Murray Levick accompanied Captain Robert Falcon Scott on his ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition to the Antarctic. He spent the summer of 1911-1912 at Cape Adare observing an Adélie Penguin rookery, making him the only scientist to this day to have studied an entire breeding cycle there. He was however shocked by what he saw. Although he made several ill-defined references to the ‘crimes’ committed by ‘hooligan’ males in the official exhibition reports, it was only recently that a previously unpublished four-page pamphlet by Levick on the ‘Sexual habits of the Adélie penguin’ was rediscovered at the Natural History Museum at Tring. It was printed in 1915 but was edited out of the official expedition reports, probably due to what was, for the times, challenging and graphic content. The report commented on the frequency of sexual activity, autoerotic behaviour, and seemingly aberrant behaviour of young unpaired males and females including necrophilia, sexual coercion, sexual and physical abuse of chicks and homosexual behaviour. Despite the somewhat shocking nature of his observations, they were however accurate, valid and, with the benefit of hindsight, deserving of publication. Levick’s made no in depth attempt to interpret or explain them, largely dismissing them as ‘depraved’. This is understandable in the context of the age, and suggests an inability of the science of the period to either acknowledge or interpret the behaviour. Scientists have since reinterpreted the behaviours that he noticed and in a paper published in the journal Polar Record, three eminent experts on Adélie penguin behaviour explain Dr Levick’s observations in a modern context.
Read the Polar Record paper ‘Dr. George Murray Levick (1876–1956): unpublished notes on the sexual habits of the Adélie penguin’ by D.G.D. Russell, W.J.L. Sladen and D.G. Ainley, which includes the original pamphlet ‘Sexual habits of the Adélie penguin’ by. G.M. Levick.

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