Antarctic Pickles

The Box

The Box | Tavistock Place | Plymouth | Devon PL4 8AX 01752 304774 Email Facebook Twitter

Here’s a little quirky story to add to today’s Antarctic theme!

In the summer of 2000, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery received a donation of over 4,000 spirit preserved animals.

These historical collections came from Plymouth’s Marine Biological Association (MBA). With thousands of jars holding pickled crabs, fish and worms and more, we were keen to take a closer look. 

Dating back to 1888, when the MBA first opened, peering into these old jars opens up an often unseen underwater world that teems with life beneath the waves.

Five of them, on first glance, seemed fairly unexciting but then we realised they’d arrived in Plymouth in 1911 from Antarctica. 

Held inside them is a small glimpse into the icy waters beneath the frozen world of our planet‘s most inhospitable continent.

Splendid sponges fill one jar. Some are shaped like nets while others branch out like pickled fingers. Another contains sea urchins from the cold waters under the thick ice. One still proudly displays its purple spines. 

Far from being a frozen, lifeless place, these jars show how rich and varied the natural world is – even in extreme environments.

The jars are from the Terra Nova expedition. They were collected by scientists, possibly while Scott and four other members of his team were tragically perishing on their return trek from the South Pole during one of the harshest Antarctic winters on record. 

Although modest in appearance, they show the beauty and resilience of nature, but are also a reminder of how fragile life often is.

Jan Freedman, curator of natural history for The Box

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