Why Amundsen Killed His Dogs- a lesson from the Heroic Age
Larry Rose, Pleasanton Middle School, Pleasanton,California. firstname.lastname@example.org
Subjects : History of Science, Philosophy of Science, Nutrition, Development of Technology, AA travel and technology, Indigenous peoples (Inuit technology)
Engagement and Exploration (Student Inquiry Activity
In terms of animals, R.F. Scott, leader of the British expedition in competition with Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition, killed his ponies as part of his plan of transport and travel. His motorized sledges proved not to work. He also, through his lack of planning and general incompetence most agree, killed himself and four of his men. The underlying cause of his death was scurvy.
Scurvy as we now know is a disease of the connective tissue of the body when deprived of Vitamin C. Vitamin C itself was discovered in the 1930’s. Prolonged Vitamin C deficiency leads to death. Most mammals can manufature vitamin C in their tissues, but not humans. After living with the Inuit and seeing them free of scurvy, Amundsen surmised that their diet (which included raw meat) contained some active antiscorbutic (anti-scurvy) agent. He had had scurvy on an earlier expedition to the Antarctic (“Belgica”). Raw and undercooked seal meat cured him. The Inuit were known to eat dogs when other food was running low or when they were cut off from hunting seals. Amundsen’s plan for reaching the South Pole required keeping his men scurvy free. He needed a source of fresh meat. So he planned to reduce his number of sled dogs in a very metculously planned fashion as they were no longer needed along the way -- because of the gradual reduction of supplies to haul. His calculations proved perfect. His men returned successfully and healthy, in fact they gained weight on the 1400 mile round trip. See the web pages above and Roland Huntsford’s book The Last Place on Earth for details. For an excellent discussion of scurvy and sailing in general see Below the Convergence by Alan Gurney.
Roald Amundsen killed many of his dogs to feed his men and the remaining dogs on their trip to the South Pole. Was that right?”
Make sure all students understand Amundsen’s successful plan for achieving the Pole. Students may use web site at http://magic.geol.ucsb.edu/~geol10/students/race.html as a resource. Another good website for background is http://www.south-pole.com (Antarctic Philately).Be sure that they understand that without dogs and the sacrifice of the dogs such an achievement would have been impossible in 1911-12.
For background discussion and research- assign the following subjects to committees -general nutrition and the prevention of scurvy -the views of industry, researchers, and animal-rights groups about using animals for clothing, cosmetics research, and medical research; have the views of these groups changed through time? -the range of conditions in which animals are kept for scientific and industry research, for food and fiber farming, for access by the public (zoos and theme parks, aquaria).....in the house of the student -views of societies other than our own toward animals for food, transportation, and research; what animals are used? -Amundsen’s work with the Inuit in learning how to use dogs for transport in the Arctic during his Northwest Passage expedition.
During the research phase, have the students periodically (and briefly) share their findings with the class. Encourage class dialog; are there areas groups have overlooked? Are there resources that other groups have found that can be employed?
Exchange (Students Draw Conclusions)
Periodically, assess student understanding of the issues by stopping the debate and requesting that each student summarize the disucssion points to that time. Ask the students to write their prediction of what may happen next in the debate.
During pilot tests, issues discussed in the debate have included:
1) it was somehow more sporting, manly, all-in-all attuned with the age that man-hauling was somehow preferred by the British to all other methods of Antarctic transport.
2) from a total lack of experience on the part of Scott with dogs came the pronouncement that dog sledding was not feasible in the Antarctic.
3) dog meat is anti-scorbutic. It was scurvy that did in the Scott expedition.
4) motor technology in 1911 was extremely poor even as used in temperate climates.
5) reliance on the “technology” of native peoples is worthwhile- Amundsen’s time spent with Inuit on his “Gjoa” Northwest Passage expedition and specified the use of the finest Greenland dogs and Eskimo clothing for his expedition. He built his dog sleds to Inuit specification.
6) the morality of the use of animals for scientific research - or in this case sacrificing them to reach some goal- cruelty in science and exploration- Scott’s ponies died too ( as did he and four of his men).
7) Modern methods of transportation in polar regions, Scott’s pioneering attempts with motorized sledges - environmental impact of Sprytes, snow mobiles,C-130s, Otters, icebreakers.
8) Dogs are forbidden in Antarctica today. Why? (Protection of native pinniped species from canine diseases.)
An alternative lesson, or one which will precede the debate and strengthen it, will be a position paper form each student on the issues raised in her/his research.
Evaluation (Assessing Student Performance)