Article image
Article image
Article image
Article image
This article displays in one automatically-generated column. View the full page to see article in its original form.

SUB-ANTARCTIC EXPLORATION.

toThe recent scientific expedition to the Auckland and Campbell Islands has realised an object long desired but scarcely hoped for by tho'naturalipts of New Zealand, and the Government and the members of ths party alike may be sincerely congratulated on the success of an undertaking almost unique in its way, the results of which, when worked out, will certainly provo of lasting practical ns well as scientific value. It is not that thsso lonely and inclement i isles aro wholly unknown to science. [ The late Sir James Hector had, for example, paid them repeated visits; and many a meeting of the Philosophical Society has bsen brightened by his realistic descriptions of the penguin colonies, and of tho wonderful homing faculty of these remarkable bird?, who ! in troops and companies "tread water" for a thousand miles, returning with unerring instinct, each to its own islet and its own nest. Many isloated geological observations had been made, many species of island fauna and flora recorded ; but no thorough or systematic explorations had ever boon undertaken. Now Zealand Government steamers regularly patrol the sub-antarctic seas, looking after seal-poachers, keeping watch for shipwrecked mariners, and replenishing the provision depots thoughtfully provided for castaways — depots, it is humiliating to relate, sometimes found pillaged by tlie unscrupulous poachers, as heartless as they are lawless. A naturalist has sometimes been privileged to accompany such expeditions ; but hi 3 time and opportunities have been necessarily limited. Fortunately for scienco, the late Captnin Fairchild, who for many years commanded these expeditions, was a naturalist, \ a keen observer/ and an indefatigable collector, and to him the world owes much for its knowledge of the characteristic species of tho outlying islands and tho seas adjacent. Such isloated facts as were known and classified were sufficient to indicate the importance, of research in this direction ; and the disturbance of natural conditions rendered it necessary that no time should bo last. The disappearance of a single ppecies, apparently unimportant, may go far to derange the ancient equilibrium, and . this process was already in operation. The quest of animal oils has had tho -effect --of almost if not quite exterminating certain species of cetecea, of seals, and of birds, and tha introduction of hogs and still more recently of sheep on Campbell Island may bo expected materially to change the biological conditions. What was needed was an expedition of experts, adequately equipped, and with reasonable timo allowed for observation — in fact, a special trip in which the scientific object should be the primary consideration. This has' now been accomplished ; tho only complaint being that timo aftsr all was too short, a brisf' fortnight being all that could bo devoted to work for which a month would not have bocn more than adequate. The field of investigation has been a wide ono, from the great cosmic problems of terrestrial magnetism to researches into the affinities of such humble zoological forms as woodlice and planarians. "Natural history" is now A very different study from tvhat it wa3 in the days of the great Linnaeus, who laid the foundations of systematic classification broad and deep — it is concerned now more with essence than external form, and is biological rather than morphological. Concerned as it is with the affinities of remotely separated ypeci-es, it may find in facts apparently trivial a key to large problems. It is, for instance, a suggestive discovery that ' ol two species of woodlice in a subantarctic islet one is found also in New Zealand and another in South America. It is interesting to know for the first timo the general geology of these islands, distinguishing the sedimentary from the plutonic ; to discover in Campbell Island moraines, a certain proof of former glaciation. There is not one single fact, geological or biological, that may not have a bearing, more or less remote, on the much-debated question of tho former distribution of land and sea in tho Pacific region. Much study and discussion will be necessary to unfold tho significance of these latest discoveries, which may be expected to keep scientific authorities busy for a long time to come. Meantime, valuable results have already been obtained. Under many disadvantages, and with great labour, a thorough magnetic survey has been made, and the position of the islands accurately fixed. Nor has the touch of human interest been lacking. The rescue of the survivors of the Dundona Id crew, cast away on Disappointment Island, has added one more chapter to the terrible- but fascinating romance of shipwreck and privation bn desert isles of the sea.

This article text was automatically generated and may include errors. View the full page to see article in its original form.
Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19071209.2.28

Bibliographic details

SUB-ANTARCTIC EXPLORATION., Evening Post, Volume LXXIV, Issue 139, 9 December 1907

Word Count
760

SUB-ANTARCTIC EXPLORATION. Evening Post, Volume LXXIV, Issue 139, 9 December 1907

Working