Saturday, December 6, 2014

Scientist found penguins will 'tolerate' people

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 06, 2014
  • Dr Bernard Stonehouse, top, measuring and weighing king penguins, he said the birds think of humans as a 'different' sorts of penguins that were 'less predictable, occasionally violent, but tolerable company when sitting still and minding his own business'. Pictured below is a survey hut Stonehouse built with a colleague

  • Polar scientist Bernard Stonehouse, who studied king penguins in Antarctica, has died at the aged of 88.

    Stonehouse first went to the continent when he was 20 in 1946 and was one of a lucky few who survived three winters in the bitterly cold conditions. He worked as naval pilot, a meteorologist, dog sledder and, ultimately, a biologist.

    The Telegraph told one amazing story of his survival on its website: "On September 15, 1947, Stonehouse was on board as deputy pilot when the base's Auster aircraft took off to mark out a safe landing spot for a larger American twin-engined aircraft, which was about to undertake an extensive aerial survey.

    "On the return flight, however, bad weather forced him and his two companions to make an emergency landing on sea ice, and the aircraft turned on its back after one of its skis hit an ice hummock. "The three men emerged unscathed but were forced to pitch camp on the ice. They had only a small 'pup' (two-man) tent, one sleeping bag, one inner bag and a tin of pemmican between the three of them. After somehow surviving the first night and failing to attract the attention of a rescue aircraft with a flare, they decided to attempt to cover the 70 miles to base on foot. On the first day they travelled ten miles, but then the snow set in.

    "For the next few days they averaged only three or four miles a day, hauling their few belongings on a 'sledge' improvised from the aircraft's fuel tank, taking it in turns to use the sleeping bag and eking out the pemmican. Then they were hit by a ferocious gale which saw them huddling together in the tiny tent for three more days.

    "The gale was a mixed blessing, however, because when it abated it had scoured the sea ice and they were able to set off again. Seven days after their crash, they heard the welcome sound of an aircraft circling some miles away and decided to use their last flare to attract its attention. They were rescued by the American expedition's Norseman aircraft. "They were extremely tired and hungry, but otherwise largely unharmed."

    Born in 1926, Stonehouse, was born in Hull and trained as a pilot. During his Antarctic expeditions, he was part of the group know as the "lost 11", as they had to endure a winter at a base at Stonington Island in 1949, after a relief ship failed to reach them because of thick sea ice. When he came back to the UK, he studied zoology and geology at university in London, however, he had already made significant scientific discovery.

    The Telegraph went on to explain: "The expedition to Adelaide Island had made the exciting discovery of an emperor penguin 'rookery' on the Dion Islands, just off Adelaide's south coast. At that time, only two other such rookeries were known.

    "From early June 1949, Stonehouse, supported by two companions, spent three months on the Dion Islands, living in tents in temperatures as low as -40C, to study the penguins during the winter breeding season, about which very little was known at the time. He gained valuable data on the breeding behaviour and embryology of the animals, observing their instinctive desire to hold an egg, or indeed any object of similar size.

    "On one occasion when a Leica camera was found to be missing, the thief was spotted waddling away with a leather strap trailing between its feet. A penguin, Stonehouse concluded, thinks that a human is a penguin who is 'different, less predictable, occasionally violent, but tolerable company when he sits still and minds his own business'.


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