It’s one of the iconic images of early Antarctica exploration: the heroic explorer sledding through the icy wastelands from his loyal team of canine companions.
But new research analyzing a centuries-old dog biscuit suggests that the animals in this picture were likely marching on a half-empty stomach: early British Antarctic expeditions malnourished their dogs.
In an article just published in Polar Record, researchers from the Canterbury Museum, Lincoln University and the University of Otago in New Zealand analyzed the history and contents of Spratt’s dog biscuits, the food of choice for canine members of early Antarctic expeditions.
The lead author, Canterbury Museum Curator Human History Dr. Jill Haley, has researched the life of dogs in Antarctica and curated the museum’s Dogs in Antarctica: Tales from the Pack 2018 exhibition.
“The early explorers valued their dogs not only because they pulled sleds, but also because of their company in the desolate seclusion of Antarctica,” she says.
“Our analysis of a partially crumbled Spratt dog biscuit, one of four cakes maintained by the Canterbury Museum, found that the contents of the cakes were not that different from modern dog biscuits. However, the amount of dogs fed on the expeditions did not differ not providing enough fuel for their high-energy activities. ”
Pet food was a relatively new invention in the early 20th century and was considered to be superior to older practices of feeding dogs table waste or letting them collect themselves.
Early polar explorers were particularly interested in Spratt’s dog biscuits because they were easy to transport, took no effort to prepare, and did not perish.
The cakes were used on two polar expeditions in the Arctic before being brought south by Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition (1901-1904). The 18 sled dogs of the expedition were fed the biscuits along with dried fish from Norway; all animals died after eating rancid fish on a sledge expedition.
Perhaps to avoid repeating this episode, the supervisors of Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913) fed the animals alone on Spratts. With a ration of 0.3 kg of biscuits per day, the dogs became very hungry and even ate their own excrement. They recovered when meat was added to their diet.
Ernest Shackleton took Spratts on his Nimrod (1907-1909) and Endurance (1914-1917) expeditions, where they were part of a dog diet that also included meat, bacon, cookies and pemmican, a high-energy blend of fat and protein.
University of Otago researchers, Professor Keith Gordon, Dr. Sara Fraser-Miller and Jeremy Rooney, used laser-based analysis to determine the composition of the materials in the cake with a resolution of micrometers and to identify a range of components such as wheat, oats and bones.
Dr. Craig Bunt, Associate Professor of Animal Science at Lincoln University, compared the cakes to similar foods, including modern dog foods, and calculated how many kilojoules of energy each cookie would have provided.
To meet the energy needs of modern sled dogs, the dogs on the early Antarctic expeditions would have had to eat between 2.6 and 3.2 kg of Spratts dog biscuits a day.
However, historical reports suggest that the daily dog rations on some expeditions were only about 0.5 kg of cookies and sometimes only 0.3 kg.
The researchers concluded that Spratt’s dog biscuits were likely a suitable complete food for dogs in Antarctica; Dogs on the early expeditions just weren’t fed enough of it.
Feeding the Team: Analysis of a Spratts Antarctic Dog Biscuit by Sara Fraser-Miller, Jeremy Rooney, Keith Gordon, Craig Bunt and Jill Haley is published in Polar Record, 57, E19. doi: 10.1017 / S0032247421000103.
Source: Fior Reports