The huskies, Morrie and Ursa, at Mawson Station, in front of husky Arne.
Image: Diana Patterson
Source: Diana Patterson
Question: Are huskie dogs still used in Antarctica? If not, when and why did their use cease?
Answer: No, the last huskies were removed from Antarctica in December 2003.
The first huskies taken to Antarctica were part of the British Antarctic Expedition of 1898-1900. Huskies are well suited to Antarctic conditions – they have thick, double-layered fur coats and, having been bred in Greenland and Labrador, they are used to working in ice, cold and wind.
Huskies are hard-working and loyal dogs. In Antarctica they were primarily used to pull sledges; when attached to a harness huskies are able to haul 50-90 kilograms each. Huskies were also a valued source of companionship for the people working in the isolated and lonely conditions of Antarctic bases.
In 1954 Australia set up its first permanent research base in Antarctica, the Mawson research station. Huskies were a continuous presence on this base for almost 40 years. Introduced species were banned in Antarctica in 1964. The ponies were removed at this time, but an exception was made for huskies because they were considered to be essential for transporting scientists and their equipment.
In 1991 Australia signed the Madrid Protocol which bans all non-indigenous species (except humans) in Antarctica and in December 1993 the last huskies were removed from the Mawson research station. The younger dogs were sent to Minnesota, USA, where they continued their working lives. The older dogs were sent back to Australia to enter retirement.
Many Antarctic researchers and support staff were deeply saddened by the decision to remove huskies from Antarctica. However, they could not dispute the reasons behind the decision. Introduced species have the potential to transmit diseases to the local fauna and motorised sledges had made working dogs all but redundant in Antarctica.
Two of these last older huskies, Morrie and Ursa, are now on display at the Melbourne Museum as part of our International Polar Year display.