The Canine Explorers – the Sled Dogs Who Helped Roald Amundsen Reach the South Pole


One hundred Greenland dogs were purchased by Roald Amundsen from the Royal Greenland Trading Company in September 1909 ostensibly for a North Pole expedition, but secretly to use to reach the South Pole. Amundsen considered the dogs “equipment”. He was a complicated character in a very different time. And he compulsively pursued his mission. His actions perhaps are seen differently from the 21st century perspective and in light of our evolving attitude toward animals, especially dogs. This paper presents the facts of what happened concerning the sled dogs, using Amundsen’s own statements in his books, diaries, and letters, as well as the expedition members’ journal entries and personal letters. It focuses on the dogs who made Amundsen’s exploration possible, and who helped humankind discover the final undiscovered part of our world.

Amundsen began his Norwegian expedition with 97 sturdy canine souls, who were taken on board the Fram near the coast of Kristiansand in August 1910. Through births and deaths on the ship during their five-month journey south, the dogs’ number swelled to 116 upon arrival in Antarctica. Adults and puppies alike withstood the roller-coaster ride of the Fram on the ocean waters, the heat of the tropics near the equator, and the freezing winter of Antarctica. Taking into account the birth of puppies on the ship and at their Antarctic home Framheim, the actual number of dogs involved in this significant moment in history doubles to over two hundred. But, after initially nurturing and protecting the dogs, Amundsen proceeded to cull them throughout the expedition, slaughtering those he deemed unnecessary or weak, and destroying those who had served their purpose. Amundsen began his South Pole trek in October 1911 with 52 brave canines, and returned with 11, as a result of unnatural, forced attrition. The dogs were nearly starved; at times when they were fed, it was the flesh of their fallen comrades they were given to line their empty stomachs. And yet the dogs all performed their roles brilliantly, even when death was their reward. The sled dogs were the heart and power of the South Pole expedition. The intent of this article is to shine a light on the dogs’ population, accomplishments, and sacrifices, and to give them their due recognition and place in history.

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