…he told me that 4 or 5 kilometres from Halley Bay, there was a rookery of emperor penguins…He told me that these birds were close to being the most primitive species of bird and possibly the embryological link in the evolutionary chain between reptiles and birds. They were thus if great scientific importance. There was an anatomist at Charing Cross Hospital who was desperate to get a precisely timed series of emperor penguin embryos at twelve-hour intervals for ten days. He stressed the importance of this and asked me to secure them…Nor did he tell me that a previous attempt had been made during Scott’s last expedition and that only one man had survived—Apsley Cherry-Garrard.
…The taxi crossing London did not crash—as had been my recurring nightmare in Antarctica—neither was the enthusiastic Dr Glenister standing on the front steps to meet me. I was informed politely but rather coldly by a secretary that he was now the Professor of Anatomy and a a very busy man. I was, therefore, invited to leave the embryos and my report with a technician and basically just to go away. I did this rather reluctantly and unhappily, and I never heard anything more from Professor Glenister though I did think that he could at least have written a short note of thanks considering what we had gone through to produce the embryos. I enquired several times over the years and was persistently told by FIDS that the embryos were being worked on…Nearly fifteen years later when I was in a position to consider the matter further and was a research director myself I went to the British Antarctic Survey (as FIDS was known by that time), expressed my concern, and asked for my embryos back saying that I would find an interested embryologist and we would work them up between us. This was agreed but when it asked for the embryos, the Survey was told that a technician had accidentally disposed of them!
|View of the Emperor Penguin Rookery at Cape Crozier by Edward Adrian Wilson|
From his report of the 1901-04 Expedition
All that can be gleaned from fossils, then, is that penguins have probably descended from birds which possessed full powers of flight, and this probability becomes converted into a certainty when the embryological evidence comes to be examined. But the question of the precise affinities of this group must still be regarded as an unsolved problem, the intense specialisation which these birds have undergone obliterating much of the necessary evidence.
Some day another Antarctic Expedition will be sent out, when it is to be hoped that, so far as the penguins are concerned, special efforts will be made to secure the earlier nestling stages of the King, and the latter stages of the Emperor Penguin full-grown nestlings of the latter being especially needed; while of both species the early and middle embryonic stages are wanted. Ripe embryos will add but little of real value to our knowledge, since they differ but little of course from the newly-hatched nestling, and furthermore, several examples are among the spoils of the expedition herein concerned. A few adults of both species would certainly be useful if preserved entire, in spirit, or in ice.