Morrie and Ursa
Two of the last huskies in Antarctica who are now on display at Melbourne Museum
Educational Value Statement
Morrie and Ursa were two of the last group of huskies used in the Australian Antarctic Territory.
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. The Antarctic huskies represent the working lives in Antarctica and also the shift to a new regime of evironmental management of Antarctica.
Morrie and Ursa were born in the same litter in September 1985. For most of their lives they were inseparable. They trained alongside one another and worked as a pair in the dog teams. Once, when both dogs escaped the station together, they were seen jumping over snow drifts in perfect unison.
Morrie was the larger dog, and one of the hardest working on the station. He was also one of the best at escaping! Although a great favourite with expeditioners, many considered him the ugliest dog in Antarctica, his appearance not helped by losing his ears in fights with other dogs.
Leaner and lighter, Ursa was literally overshadowed by his brother. Although more easily distracted by wildlife and scent marks from other huskies, he was nevertheless just as hard a worker.
After their return to Australia in 1994, Morrie and Ursa lived in retirement for over six years, making a few appearances at public shows. In the warmer environment of Victoria, they also shed much of their thick fur! Morrie died on 4 February 2000 and Ursa on 3 October 2001.
Dogs were first used to haul loads in Antarctica by Borchrevink in the 1890s. Early British explorers Scott and Shackleton preferred to use ponies but the success of Norwegian explorer Amundsen with huskies led to their use being more widespread. 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.
Australia used huskies at Mawson station from its establishment in 1954. The first Australian huskies came from a group of Labrador and Greenland huskies intended to be delivered to Adelie Land in 1948-49 for a French base. Due to heavy ice, the ship delivering the huskies was unable to land and turned back to Australia. When quarantine officials refused to let the huskies stay in Australia, Phillip Law, the Director of the Antarctic Division arranged for them to stay at the Melbourne Zoo. Next year, the huskies went to the French base, but Australia kept the pups that had been born, plus any unwanted adults, a total of 31 dogs. These dogs were transported to Heard Island in 1950 and to Mawson station in 1954. All of the Australian huskies came from this breeding stock plus three Greenland huskies acquired in 1963.
In 1991 Australia signed the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the Madrid Protocol). Annex II of this agreement required all dogs to be removed from Antarctica to reduce the impact of introduced species. By this stage only Australia, Britain and Argentina still kept huskies in Antarctica. In 1992 nineteen younger huskies and three pups were transported to a polar expedition training camp in Ely, Minnesota. This left six huskies too old to continue working. One of these died in Antarctica and another en route to Australia; the last four, including Morrie and Ursa, were removed from Mawson station in December 1993 and returned to Australia.
Australian Antarctic Division