Necrophilia, rape, masturbation — it’s just another day for an Adélie penguin, in the eyes of a gentleman scientist.
That’s what George Murray Levick, a doctor who journeyed alongside Captain Robert Scott to the Antarctic, recorded when his expedition spent almost a year in 1911-1912 at Cape Adare, on the Ross Sea. Levick recorded these observations — which he deemed evidence of “astonishing depravity” on the part of the penguins — and attempted to share them when he returned home to Britain, but the Natural History Museum of London ultimately deemed the report too salacious for publication.
Douglas Russell, a curator of birds’ eggs and nests at the Natural History Museum at Tring, in Hertfordshire, England, rediscovered Levick’s long-forgotten report on the sexual proclivities of the adélie penguins while researching for another project. The document — which was stamped with “Not for publication” in bold letters — was rather shocking, he told The Telegraph.
“It is the most graphic account of challenging sexual behaviour you are every going to read. It is challenging now, but for 1915 when [Levick] submitted it for publication, it is extraordinary,” he said. “It would have been a bombshell if they had published it at the time.”
Adélie penguins are famous for engaging in prostitution and regular thievery, but some of the revelations in Levick’s report go well beyond these behaviors — for example, this description of an attempt by a male penguin to copulate with the frozen corpse of a female, as quoted in the Telegraph:
“I saw a cock engaged in the sexual act upon the dead body of a white-throated Adélie of the previous year. This took somewhat over a minute, the position taken up by the cock differing in no way from that of normal copulation.”
Still, these shocking sexual activities may not have ultimately led to the museum’s decision not to publish Levick’s observations. Rather, the fact that the penguins occasionally engaged in homosexual acts could have been the tipping point for suppression. Russell told the Telegraph that the doctor-turned-explorer may have coded his notes in Greek because he feared the repercussions of describing the penguins’ homosexual behavior — acts which were still illegal in Britain at the time.