Petroushka\’s Miscellany


Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Oceanic category.

Yet More Antarctic Christmas Carols

In case you weren’t already convinced that Antarctica is special, this should do it: a hut built for Robert Falcon Scott in McMurdo Sound in 1911 is still there, preserved on ice, in nearly the same shape today as it was back when Scott and Amundson were racing to the pole early last century. At the time, it was the biggest structure in Antarctica. It is full of tins of food, has a dark room full of dark room chemicals, and the remains of sled dogs are still preserved outside (ew). A somewhat creepy but probably very moving reminder of the hardships endured by Antarctic explorers, and of the fact that Scott’s team reached the South Pole, but didn’t make it back to the Sound. Check it out next time you’re in Antarctica!

Also, Christmas is coming up, and with it more lyrics for the Antarctic Christmas Songbook. Hurrah! All the lyrics have been put together on one easy-to-read page for your Christmas enjoyment. I hope many of you will be inspired to save a turkey and roast a penguin instead this year. I’m sure I will . . . .

The Antarctic Hut Song
Deck the Halls
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
Polar Bear Migration Song

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The Antarctic Christmas Songbook, Part 2

More Antarctic Christmas (and Hannukah) songs, these ones written by Paul and Sus from New York City. Raytheon is the company where our friend is working, hence its recurrence in the Songbook. Also, Paul and Sus are Jewish and so know the tune to Hannukah, Oh Hannukah and were able to write brilliant lyrics for that too, which fits perfectly with the way the Songbook came about in the first place. Hopefully by Christmas we’ll have the whole world singing the Antarctic Christmas Songbook!

Here Comes Raytheon (to the tune of Here Comes Santa Claus)
Rudolph the Sunburned Scientist
Snowy Night (to the tune of Silent Night)
Penguins Roasting on an Open Fire
Antarctica, Antarctica (to the tune of Hannukah, Oh Hannukah)
The South Po-el (to the tune of The First Noel)
On the Seventh Continent (to the tune of Good King Wenceslas)
Amundson is Coming to Town  


The Antarctic Christmas Songbook

Antarctica is fascinating: It is the fifth-largest continent. It is considered a desert because its annual precipitation is less than 10 inches a year. The precipitation that falls on the Antarctic interior is lower than that which falls on the Sahara. The lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth was recorded in Antarctica: -89.2ºC. It has winds of up to 320km/h.

More than 99% of Antarctica is covered in ice. This is about 90% of the world’s ice, and more than two-thirds of the world’s fresh water. It also makes Antarctica the highest continent in the world. On Deception Island, you can have a swim in water heated by one of the two active Antarctic volcanoes, while being ogled by penguins.

The only plants in Antarctica are algae, lichens and mosses. There are also some fungi and one liverwort. The largest truly land-based animals in Antarctica (i.e. those that neither depend on the sea for their food nor leave Antarctica in winter) are mites, ticks and nematode worms. The seas surrounding Antarctica, however, have 200 different kinds of fish, some with antifreeze for blood; six species of seal; 12 species of bird; lots of whales; jelly-like creatures called salps; and so much krill that it outweighs all us humans put together.

The ozone hole measured this year over Antarctica is the biggest ever recorded: 29.5 km2 with a mass deficit of 39.8 megatonnes (i.e. the amount of ozone missing now compared to a baseline measured decades ago, before the ozone layer started disintegrating).

Read more interesting facts about Antarctica on the ozone hole website and on this fabulous website devoted entirely to all things Antarctic.

Anyway, during a recent trip to the Sinai desert, in the middle of Ramadan, we were thinking about a friend who is currently working in Antarctica. In between swimming, snorkling, lying in hammocks in the hot shade, and trying to avoid getting sunburnt, we came up with the Antarctic Christmas Songbook. The lyrics to some of the songs are below. I will add the rest when I get them from my friends, who have since returned to NYC after their Egyptian holiday.

Click here to get to the lyrics for all the songs below (and more!)

While Scientists Watch Their Rocks by Night (to the tune of While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night)
Oh Come All Ye Penguins
Hark, the Tiny Krill All Sing
God Rest Ye Merry Leopard Seals
Antarctica, Antarctica (to the tune of Oh Tannenbaum)
Antarctica Rocks (to the tune of Jingle Bell Rock)
The Leopard Seal and Penguin (to the tune of The Holly and the Ivy)
It’s Winter in the Antarctic (to the tune of We Wish You a Merry Christmas)
I Saw A Ship Come Sailing In (to the tune of We Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In)
We Three Penguins (to the tune of We Three Kings of Orient Are)
The Twelve Days of Antarctic Christmas


On wobbegong sharks etc.

Of all the sharks and rays that swim in the oceans, star in horror films, and murder innocent crocodile hunters, the wobbegongs have the most interesting name. [A brief aside: it turns out that sharks and rays are the same kind of animal: they’re all elasmobranchs. But since sharks have a real – albeit highly exaggerated – habit of chewing on humans, we know much more about sharks than about rays.]

The word “woebegone”, says Michael Quinion, has its origins in medieval English. It comes from an expression first recorded around 1300: “me is woe begone”, which he says means “grief has beset me”. Begone is the past participle of the verb to bego, which, until it died a quiet death four centuries ago, meant to go around, surround or beset. It seems that medieval humans liked the expression “me is woe begone” so much that eventually, through constant use, the words stuck together into the adjective we know and love today: woebegone. Shakespeare, of course, had a hand in changing the meaning a tiny bit from actually being afflicted by grief to having the appearance thereof. (He also invented the name Olivia, but that is another story for another time.)

Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”, has also changed the English language. It brought us the Lake Wobegon effect: the tendency to treat all members of a group as above average, as in, It’s a moderation of the so-called Lake Woebegon effect, where every company’s board wants to consider their CEO to be above average.

And while Lake Wobegon itself appears to be a fictional place, it also appears that Minnesotans don’t mind using it to promote real camps on real lakes, such as Camp Courage, whose sessions include Sickle Cell and Siblings Camp, Hemophilia Camp, Cancer Camp and Augmentative Communication Camp. I’m sure they provide a much-needed service for kids who would otherwise not get to spend the summer covered in mosquito bites, poison ivy and various unidentifiable rashes. But I don’t think I’d want to be the one who, when asked where I spent the summer, had to answer “Augmentative Communication Camp”.

Now, if you will take a look at the Ornate Wobbegong (Orectolobus ornatus), you will no doubt agree that he does look forlorn, despite being so well camouflaged. The Ornate Wobbegong lives in Australian coastal waters and around Papua New Guinea.

ornate wobbegong

His cousin, the Spotted Wobbegong (O. maculatus), also lives in the shallow coastal waters of Australia from Queensland to Western Australia.

spotted wobbegong

Spotted and Ornate Wobbegongs can be told apart by their colouring: small white dots vs. dark spots. Both like to lie on sand or rocky ocean floors and be cryptic (i.e. well camouflaged). They are sometimes called carpet sharks. They can grow up to 3m and have very sharp teeth, M. McGrouther so try not to step on them, or provoke them, or block their escape routes. Apparently they are flexible enough to swivel around and bite you if you grab their tail, so don’t. Particularly since they seem disinclined to let go once they have bitten you. At least, this was the experience of a man who, after being bitten by a wobbegong, swam to shore, walked to his car and drove to get help with the shark still attached to his leg. Wobbegongs eat at night, mainly fishes, crayfish, crabs and octopi. Yum. Australians also eat wobbegongs – as fish & chips. Those crazy Australians.

Wobbegong, sadly, bears no relation to woebegone. Michael Quinion tells us that it comes from a New South Wales Aboriginal language and no one seems to have any idea what it actually means. But you can still watch the Ornate Wobbegong in action.

What else is in a name? Orectolobus comes from Greek: orectus, which means stretched out, and lobos, meaning a protuberance (like the ones on the head of the wobbegong shark). Maculatus comes from the Latin macula, which means spot. Ornatus means splendid dress, and turns out to be a common species name. Examples include:

the golden julie (Julidochromis ornatus);

golden julie

the spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus): the only bear that lives in South America, including darkest Peru, and the prototype for Paddington;


Photo © The Phoenix Zoo

the tree lizard (Urosaurus ornatus);

tree lizard
Photo © Wikipedia

and the rainbow bee-eater


Photo © Wikipedia
Sharp Teeth Photo © M. McGrouther