From the Editor: An Outsider's Perceptions
The Gaze of Animal Life
In the News
Conducting Dog Feeding Trials on the Antarctic Huskies:
a behind the scenes look at how it got done!
Further Experiments on the nutrition of sledge dogs
How Use of the name Inuit became official
An Examination of Traditional Knowledge:
the case of the Inuit Sled Dog, part 4
Chinook Project visits Northern Labrador
Media Review: Qimmit - A Clash of Two Truths
IMHO: In Transition
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Dog weighing at Base W, Detaille Island.
The man doing the weighing is Angus Erskine.
Conducting Dog Feeding Experiments on the Antarctic Huskies:
a behind the scenes look at how it got done!
by Henry Wyatt, M.D.
Until Sue Hamilton contacted me, I had forgotten about the dog-feeding experiments. They were over fifty years ago.
I guess we all went South looking for adventure. For geologists and surveyors the work was part of a career structure, but for physicians it was an interruption of career. How to justify such time out?
Most of the medical officers were scratching about to find some justification for their time away, so Julian Taylor’s pioneering work on the diet and physiology of sledge dogs was a huge boon. He needed someone to check the nutritional value of newly developed concentrated food blocks – Nutrican – and I was glad for the opportunity.
The challenge was to measure how much of the ingested protein, fat and carbohydrate was absorbed and how much passed through unchanged, and to find what it would take for working dogs to maintain weight during sledge journeys. The plan was to weigh the dogs at regular intervals during the feeding trials, to feed them a set amount of each diet, and to collect all of each of dog’s droppings for sample periods of 24 hours. Of course, to collect the turds into tin cans one necessarily collected a lot of snow, so to find how much protein, fat and carbohydrate was being excreted one had to melt the snowy mix, to stir it most thoroughly, and then weigh each tin-full. Small samples of the well-stirred snowy brew were then weighed on the lab balance, evaporated to dryness, and reweighed. Those dried samples were sealed in glass phials and taken back to England for analysis.
Of the needed lab equipment, I suppose the most important, or at least the most delicate, was the laboratory beam balance with all its tiny weights. Such was part of the freight unloaded first at Base W, Detaille Island, and then at Base E, Stonington Island. I watched as the crew hoisted the small crate containing the balance from the hold and out to deck level. At that point the crate slipped from its sling and fell 20 feet (6 m). The crate burst open and balance and weights flew out over the bottom of the hold. It seemed as though that was the end of the enterprise, but we started to search out all the parts on the hold floor. Everyone was sympathetic, but I didn’t hold much hope. Yet when we searched the hold – it took a few hours – we found every one of the balance weights, with the smallest, I think, a tiny sliver of metal weighing 5 milligrams or so. As important, we inspected the knife edges of the balance arm on which the accuracy depended and could find no evidence of any damage at all. So all equipment was retrieved and the experiments could go ahead.
The dogs, whether at Base or during journeys, were tethered on six foot (1.8 m) chains to a long cable. At the extremity of its chain each dog was about three feet (0.9 m) from the next, so the droppings from each dog could not be mixed up with those on either side. We didn’t need to supply water; the dogs took all their water requirements by eating snow, no doubt another significant source of heat loss.
Weighing the dogs, slung under a tripod, was not too difficult. Of course, they wriggled and squirmed in the canvas sling, but between such wriggling the needle on the weighing scale was stable enough to measure.
The dogs seemed to take a particular interest in the experiments. For a human to be so attentive to the frozen lumps and stains in the snow must, I suppose, have been to them remarkable. And from my perspective the fact that the experiments were conducted on snow made the job particularly easy, however offensive. Not one stained particle of snow need be missed. It would have been far, far more difficult to conduct the experiments on dried and rocky earth.
The real difficulties came with the laboratory work. At Base W (Detaille Island) my lab was in the loft away from the kitchen, but at Base E (Stonington Island) I was on the other side of a flimsy inner wall behind a rather inadequate door. Since the experiment required the drying of many samples at a time over a water bath the smell was awful. On the other side of the partition was the kitchen and stove. It was not a good experience since the hut, having been unoccupied for many years before our arrival, sat in an ice trough and could not be ventilated.
Drying the turds. Photo: Wyatt
I dreamed of homecoming, as we all often did. Mischievous amongst the dreams was the thought of entering Britain longing to be asked what was in the box full of sealed glass phials containing the powdery remnants of the experiments. Of course, arrangements had been made about bringing the stuff in, so to my everlasting disappointment the question never came. What a missed opportunity.
* * *After his Antarctic experience, Henry Wyatt wandered a bit, first as a junior assistant with a Medical Research Council climatic research unit travelling to the Middle and Far East during acclimatisation research, then working with sledge dogs for Pinewood Studios used in the film The Savage Innocents, about the polar north, starring Anthonly Quinn and Peter O’Toole. In 1970 he moved to Canada and for 23 years worked at the University of Alberta, where his department collaborated in studies of eye disease in the Canadian North. In that way he visited settlements in the North many times over the years as far north as Sachs Harbour on Banks Island, and as far east as Pelly Bay. Dr. Wyatt’s hobby since 1970 has been flying one thing or another, nowadays mainly gliders.