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What explorers stranded in the Antarctic 100 years ago learned about that habitat helped design Polk Conservation Center at Detroit Zoo

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For more than 100 years people have been fascinated by the Antarctic, so it would only make sense for the Detroit Zoo to take advantage of that as it gets ready to open a new home for the continent’s most well-known natives … the penguin.

With the opening of The Polk Conservation Center on the horizon on April 18 the zoo will look at the human experience on the bottom of the earth with “Sir Ernest Shackleton Endurance Expedition 1914-1917: Triumph Against All Odds.” It’s the story of bravery and survival against all odds. Shackleton and his 28-man crew spent 18 months trekking across the ice after their ship, the Endurance, was crushed in the pack ice of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea.

Sir Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton

The crew of the Endurance left Buenos Aires, Argentina, for South Georgia on October 26, 1914 in their bid to be the first to cross the Antarctic continent. On December 5, the ship left the Grytviken whaling station in South Georgia.

It was the last time the crew would touch land for 497 days. On January 18, 1915, the Endurance became stuck in the pack ice. The crew stayed on board the stranded ship. On September 2 the pressure of the ice made the Endurance jump in the air and settle on its beam, according to crew member Perce Blackborow.

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On October 27 at 5 p.m., Shackleton gave the order to abandon ship. Nearly a month later on November 21 with a single cry of “She’s going, boys!” he and his crew watched the Endurance sink. They were now alone with no transportation but their feet.

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S8They  were not rescued until August 30, 1917, 22 months after they’d set out from South Georgia.

The “Sir Ernest Shackleton Endurance Expedition 1914-1917: Triumph Against All Odds” exhibit consists of more than 150 photographs taken by Frank Hurley, a member of the 28-man crew. There are also video clips and recreations of what the explorers went through during the agonizing 18-month experience.  They even take a look at when the ship, the Endurance, was crushed in the pack ice.

“This amazing collection of images, film and artifacts is a testament to the heroism, leadership and human endurance of Sir Ernest Shackleton,” says Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoological Society executive director and CEO.

Shackleton’s discoveries of the frozen south inspired many of the design elements in the new penguin habitat such as the tabular iceberg with a crevasse and waterfall.

There will also be a 4-D visor experience, which helps recreate the penguins’ ancestral home along with arctic blasts, waves and snow. The zoo will even help create the proper atmosphere with video feature called projection mapping depicting iceberg calving – one of nature’s most dramatic visual spectacles where icebergs split, sending massive cascades of ice crashing into the sea.

Macaroni penguin

Macaroni penguin

The Polk Penguin Conservation Center will be the new home to the Detroit Zoo’s 83 king, rockhopper, macaroni and gentoo penguins. Its signature feature will be a 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area where visitors can watch the birds deep-dive. Two acrylic underwater tunnels will provide views of the penguins above and below water. The facility is nearing completion on a 2-acre site at the zoo’s entrance.

The “Sir Ernest Shackleton Endurance Expedition 1914-1917: Triumph Against All Odds” exhibit runs from March 5 through September 2 at the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery and is free with zoo admission.

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