June–July 1911 main content.

June–July 1911

Part of the Race to the End of the Earth exhibition.


Team Of Three Risks Life And Limb For Penguin Eggs

Quest For Scientific Data Justifies Dangerous Trek: June-July, 1911

In June-July 1911, Wilson, Cherry, and Bowers undertook the "Winter Journey" -- a 70-mile trek in the middle of the austral winter to Cape Crozier, for the sole purpose of collecting eggs of the emperor penguin. The three men suffered horrendous sledging conditions, temperatures that often sank below -60°F, and danger at every step from crevasses and blizzards. But they survived, and they got their eggs.

What could possibly have justified such a dangerous mission? The three men would have doubtless replied that scientific advancement made it worth the risk.

Wilson was convinced that the embryonic development of these penguins could solve a scientific puzzle regarding how birds and reptiles were related.

But because emperor penguins lay their eggs in the middle of the winter, there was no choice: the men had to go when they had to go. This adventure had nothing to do with showing themselves off as elite performers or going for a brass ring like the South Pole; their sole purpose was to acquire scientific data.

Years later, Cherry had this to say:

"For we are a nation of shopkeepers, and no shopkeeper will look at research which does not promise him a financial return within a year...If you march your Winter Journey you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin's egg."