Penguins and Bagpipes

I saw this video on PenguinsLand and just had to do a little bit of research on it.

On November 2, 1902, William Speirs Bruce led an expedition to the Antarctic aboard the Scotia. They would be the first to explore the Weddell Sea and started the first permanent research station, the Omond House, on the South Orkney Island of Laurie on April 1, 1903.

Gilbert Kerr bagpiping with an Emporer

The man in the photo above is Gilbert Kerr, the ship’s bagpiper. Bruce dressed Kerr in full Highland regalia and got him out on the ice with an emporer penguin. The idea was that they would play different styles of bagpipe music (jigs, strathspeys, reels, slow marches, etc) and see if the penguin had any reaction.

Per their report, the penguin was fairly indifferent to the performance, possibly concerned it was going to be their next dinner guest.

Neither rousing marches, lively reels, nor melancholy laments seemed to have any effect on these lethargic, phlegmatic birds; there was no excitement, no sign of appreciation or disapproval, only sleepy indifference.

Regardless of the results, this is certainly an interesting experiment in the true nature of scientific wonder – just to see what would happen. I’m also interested to find out why they brought a bagpiper along for an Antarctic expedition. I’m guessing there is reason relating to Bruce being Scottish and this was customary.



Filed under Animals, Penguin, Photo, Video

4 responses to “Penguins and Bagpipes

  1. Perhaps the penguin has the same love of bagpipe music as I do.

    I think bringing a bagpiper along is kind of a British naval tradition or something. They do seem to be fond of bagpipe music for some reason.

    I’ll bet Gilbert Kerr was feeling a wee bit of a draft if he was truly wearing his kilt in the traditional manner. Gives new meaning to the term “Chilly Willy”.

    Remember that guy at Wheeler who played the bagpipes in that open area between housing and the airfield?

  2. I really hope that bagpiper was wearing thermal underwear. Makes me cold just thinking about it.

  3. Great post, interesting stuff!

  4. Elizabeth Krall

    Four and half years after you posted this, I’ve found it, thanks to having just watched a documentary about William Spiers Bruce, in which this photo flashed up. I’ve seen the photo many times but never knew the story behind it, and, frankly, always assumed it was a bad Photoshop job. Now I know it’s really a 110-year-old photograph. Thanks for enlightening me!

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