Lessons from the Arctic: How Roald Amundsen won the race to the South Pole

Roald Amundsen with his dog and ship Fram in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Polenear his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

Roald Amundsen with his dog Pan and ship Fram near his home at Svartskog, Norway in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Pole near his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

‘Race to the Pole – Captain Scott successful’ claimed The Age’s headline writer on 8 March 1912, the day after Norwegian adventurer Captain Roald Amundsen slipped quietly into Hobart in his polar ship Fram. The headline was in hindsight tragically way off the mark but it was not a deliberate ‘alternative fact’ of its day splashed across the established masthead. It was more an excited assumption based on expectation in the former British colonies of Australia and a misreading of Amundsen’s Nordic reserve on his arrival there after 16 months in Antarctica in his well-publicised contest with British naval Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

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A Nautical Name

2014 marks 100 years of submarine service in Australia. It’ll also mark the launch of a new interactive family exhibition with a submarine theme.

Concept sketch for exhibition

Concept sketch for exhibition


When asked to develop an exhibition with the working title Nautilus, I was familiar with Nemo’s fantastical submarine from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but I didn’t appreciate how many real submarines have been called Nautilus, their impressive list of achievements, or the role of an Australian adventurer in one of them. Continue reading

Visiting vessel RV Whale Song

Whale Song at sea

RV Whale Song at sea

We have a visitor at the museum! Whale research vessel Whale Song arrived last Thursday and will be moored at the museum wharves until 21 January.

On Thursday, I went onboard to have a look around. During my visit I met Curt and Michelle who live and research on the vessel with their daughter and two professional crew… Oh, and Skipper their fiesty little watch dog! Curt and Michelle generously showed me around the vessel and told me about their facsinating whale research.

I learnt that Whale Song is an ice class research vessel specifically built to conduct whale research throughout the worlds’ oceans.  Her hull and machinery are sound dampened so that whale songs can be heard using towed acoustic arrays (a series of underwater microphones) while the vessel is underway.  She may be one of the few vessels, besides navy submarines, that was ever designed to operate silently like this.  She has forward searching sonar and military spec night vision cameras (which we tested out, but no whales in Darling Harbour!) for locating whales in the most challenging conditions from the tropics to the poles.

RV Whale Song at sea with a pod of four whales at the bow

A pod of whales off the bow of RV Whale Song

Curt also showed me the impressive three dimensional real time bottom mapping software that allows scientists onboard to map canyons and seamounts where they find whales.

Most recently the team have completed the second season of a five year program funded by US oil and gas giants known as the Joint Industry Partners.  The project operated from Perigian Beach to the Queensland Sunshine Coast and examined the behavioural affects of seismic air guns on migrating humpback whales. Prior to that, Whale Song was in the Kimberley region measuring blubber thickness with stereo cameras set up on her gimballed 12m boom crane and applying satellite tags to northbound humpback whales off Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef.

After a brief stop in Sydney, Whale Song will head south around the bottom of Australia, studying pygmy blue whales, killer whales and sperm whales enroute to Fremantle where she will finish  her first circumnavigation of Australia.  The following months will be spent satellite tagging blue whales and humpback whales in preparation for an expedition to the Antarctic in the summer of 2012/2013.

Curt, Michelle and Skipper the dog onboard RV Whale Song

Curt, Michelle and Skipper the dog onboard RV Whale Song

Whale Song can be viewed from the museum wharves until 21 January.

For more information about Whale Song and the Centre for Whale Research, visit their website.

Carli, ANMM.

P.S Check out pics from my visit on Flickr.