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'Sexually deviant' penguins too much for Antarctic explorer

An adult penguin giving a chick some special attention - a site that would make George Murray Levick roll over in his grave. (Source: WikiCommons/Jerzystrzelecki) An adult penguin giving a chick some special attention - a site that would make George Murray Levick roll over in his grave. (Source: WikiCommons/Jerzystrzelecki)

(RNN) – Dr. George Murray Levick holds the distinction of being the only person in history to observe an entire breeding cycle in the Antarctic – and apparently, he saw more than he wanted.

Newly uncovered documents that are part of an exhibit at the Natural History Museum have revealed Levick's thoughts on the Adelie penguin as depraved hooligans who conceded to their every sexual whim.

Among the dumbfounding practices Levick observed during the Terra Nova expedition led by Capt. Robert Falcon Scott were sexual abuse of chicks, necrophilia and homosexuality. Levick also claimed that the penguins, in a complete aberration of nature, had sexual activity for purposes other than reproduction.

If Levick hadn't thought so scientifically, he might have chalked it up to this simple fact: "They're birds that can't fly, so they're gonna do something with their time."

However, this was much deeper than that. He was so horrified by what he saw that his findings remained hidden for nearly 100 years because he refused to include them in his published paper Natural History of the Adelie Penguin.

He wrote his excluded observations in Greek to ensure that very few people had access to the information and circulated a separate paper, Sexual Habits of the Adelie Penguin, to a small circle of friends.

So was this penguin porn, or was Levick just ahead of his time?

Natural History Museum curator Douglas Russell, who happened upon Levick's lost observations, chose the latter.

"Adelies gather at their colonies in October to start to breed. They have only a few weeks to do that and young adults simply have no experience of how to behave," Russell said in an interview with The Guardian. "Many respond to inappropriate cues. Hence, the seeming depravity of their behaviour. For example, a dead penguin, lying with its eyes half-open, is very similar in appearance to a compliant female. The result is the so-called necrophilia that Levick witnessed and which so disgusted him."

Russell further noted research since that trek in the Antarctic has revealed the behavior of penguins strongly resembles that of humans.

Even so, what appears normal to humans can hardly be applied in the context of nature.

"Levick was also a gentleman, traveling with a group of men in very difficult circumstances, witnessing behaviour he neither expected nor understood," Russell said. "It is not surprising that he was shocked by his findings."

We can take all this to mean Adelie penguins will not be petitioning the Antarctic government for the legalization of gay marriage any time soon.

But if they do at least they're already dressed for the occasion.

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