‘Depraved’ sex acts by penguins censored 100 years ago are now being published

Accounts of unusual sexual activities among penguins, observed a century ago by a member of Captain Scott’s polar team, are finally being made public.

Details, including “sexual coercion”, recorded by Dr George Murray Levick were considered so shocking that they were removed from official accounts.

However, scientists now understand the biological reasons behind the acts that Dr Levick considered “depraved”.

The Natural History Museum has published his unedited papers.

Dr Levick, an avid biologist, was the medical officer on Captain Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole in 1910. He was a pioneer in the study of penguins and was the first person to stay for an entire breeding season with a colony on Cape Adare.

He recorded many details of the lives of adelie penguins, but some of their activities were just too much for the Edwardian sensibilities of the good doctor.

He was shocked by what he described as the “depraved” sexual acts of “hooligan” males who were mating with dead females. So distressed was he that he recorded the “perverted” activities in Greek in his notebook.

On his return to Britain, Dr Levick attempted to publish a paper entitled “the natural history of the adelie penguin”, but according to Douglas Russell, curator of eggs and nests at the Natural History Museum, it was too much for the times.

“He submitted this extraordinary and graphic account of sexual behaviour of the adelie penguins, which the academic world of the post-Edwardian era found a little too difficult to publish,” Mr Russell said.

The sexual behaviour section was not included in the official paper, but the then keeper of zoology at the museum, Sidney Harmer, decided that 100 copies of the graphic account should be circulated to a select group of scientists.

Mr Russell said they simply did not have the scientific knowledge at that time to explain Dr Levick’s accounts of what he termed necrophilia.

“What is happening there is not in any way analogous to necrophilia in the human context,” Mr Russell said. “It is the males seeing the positioning that is causing them to have a sexual reaction.

“They are not distinguishing between live females who are awaiting congress in the colony, and dead penguins from the previous year which just happen to be in the same position.”

Sexual coercion

Only two of the original 100 copies of Dr Levick’s account survive. Mr Russell and colleagues have now published a re-interpretation of Dr Levick’s findings in the journal Polar Record.

Mr Russell described how he had discovered one of the copies by accident.

“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.

“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 behaviour, and it was fascinating.”

The report and Dr Levick’s handwritten notes are now on display at the Natural History Museum for the first time. Mr Russell believes they show a man who struggled to understand penguins as they really are.

“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.”


Thanks to Kedmobee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.



Shooter Mistakes Mohawk for a Bird

Derrill Rockwell told police he grabbed his rifle, the .22-caliber he kept handy to kill rodents around the house, about 5 a.m. Oct. 5 and walked outside to confront it.

The bird.

Possibly, he told police, the same fowl he suspected of harassing his cats recently around his home near Orchard Mesa Cemetery.

It was red, sitting at the top of a hill about 90 feet away from Rockwell.

“His intent was to spook it away,” Deputy District Attorney Jason Conley told District Judge Richard Gurley on Friday.

Rockwell shot once but said he didn’t see the bird fly away. Soon after, he heard a woman’s voice, moaning in pain. Rockwell discovered a 23-year-old woman, with a large red mohawk, with a gunshot wound to the head.

“In 15 years in law enforcement, this was one of the more interesting cases I’ve worked,” Grand Junction Police Department detective Sean Crocker told the judge Friday.

Rockwell, 49, was sentenced to serve five years probation after pleading guilty to felony possession of a weapon by a prior offender.

The District Attorney’s Office dismissed remaining charges, including tampering with evidence, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and false reporting. He was ordered to pay more than $10,000 in restitution.

Rockwell initially misled the investigation, authorities said. Conley told the judge that Rockwell offered a wet towel for the woman’s head injury and drove her to the emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital after the shooting, leaving his name and phone number with doctors.

“She got out of the truck on her own accord,” Conley told the judge.

Rockwell told a nurse he heard noises outside his home, went outside and found a woman bleeding from the head. Conley said Rockwell later explained he went home, gathered the rifle and drove to the Redlands Roller Dam, where he tossed the weapon into the Colorado River.

Six days after the shooting, Rockwell told another story to police detectives, acknowledging he fired the weapon after confusing the woman’s red mohawk hairstyle for a distant bird.

Stephan Schweissing, Rockwell’s attorney, said Rockwell’s interview with police Oct. 11 went against his advice to his client. Had Rockwell not voluntarily spoken with detectives, he likely wouldn’t have been charged by the District Attorney’s Office in the matter, Schweissing said.

“He just couldn’t live with himself, knowing what he knew,” the attorney said.

Police detectives had few clues in the investigation, which early on had centered around the victim’s possible transient lifestyle at the time and her associates, Crocker told the judge.

“(Rockwell) gave a full, detailed confession,” the detective told the judge.

Crocker said police conducted a comprehensive investigation into Rockwell’s account, searching his property while returning there to re-enact the shooting scenario Rockwell had described. The woman was believed to be in a crouched position at the top of the hill — with her red mohawk exposed roughly 90 feet away — when she was shot, according to testimony Friday.

Conley told the judge the woman may have been passed out from intoxication prior to being shot, and officers found a small bag of suspected methamphetamine in the area where she was found.

The District Attorney’s Office ultimately found nothing to dispute Rockwell’s account, Conley told the judge.

Rockwell had been prohibited from owning a firearm after a 1995 conviction for attempted burglary.

“This was a tragic accident, and I’m truly sorry,” he told the judge.


Thousand of Migratory Birds Make Crash Landing in Cedar City, Utah


A flock of tens of thousands of Eared Grebes mistook the Utah town of Cedar City for a lake late Monday night and crash landed during a winter snow storm killing hundreds of the migrating birds.

Residents said the sky rained birds in Iron County about 11:30 p.m. Monday as the water-based Eared Grebes slammed into streets and parking lots all over town. “They get down through the clouds and see a lawn that is covered with snow or a parking lot that is covered with snow with lights on it thinking it’s a lake and try to land on it,” said DWR spokesman Lynn Chamberlain.

Apparently, the birds can not survive the cold or on frozen water and came down en masse to find shelter from the storm that hit Cedar City.

“They hit the pavement and many of them are injured or killed and the rest are stranded because they can’t take off from the ground. They have to have a large expanse of water in order to get airborne again,” Chamberlain said.

About 15,000 died on impact. The Division of Wild Life Resources workers and city residents scrambled to rescue the injured birds, taking them about 20 miles south to the warmer waters of Grandpa’s Pond in Washington County, where they can recover, eat insects and continue their southern migration. “Or if they are injured to the point that they can not fly they can actually survive on the pond there for an indefinite period of time,” said Chamberlain.

Chamberlain said these types of bird crashes happen frequently but he has never seen anything like this before.

Wildlife officials said the Cedar City residents did an amazing job to help collect the injured birds and take them to safety and estimate they helped rescued nearly 3,500 Eared Grebes that otherwise would have died.