Penguins and Dundee – you’d be forgiven if you’ve never made the connection before.
While the humble gull often represents the city for the wrong reasons, penguins are doing so for the right ones.
It’s not only the colourful spectacle of Maggie’s Penguin Parade taking over the city which serves as a reminder of Dundee’s affinity for the bird. This love affair has a deeper historical tie which has been central to the city’s heritage.
It all started during the whaling industry in the 19th Century. Ships went out to hunt whales or seals and would come back with stories of strange creatures from the seas they sailed in.
During the so-called Dundee Whaling Expedition, an exploratory voyage in 1892, Scottish painter and travel writer WG Burn Murdoch was on board throughout and made sketches of penguins while travelling.
These are thought to be the first drawings of penguins taken from live observation.
Just a few years later, Dundee was chosen as the city where RRS Discovery would be built – the last traditional three-masted ship to be built in Britain – which is proudly displayed at Discovery Point. It set out for the Antarctic with the aim of studying and observing penguins in greater detail.
Erin Farley, of Leisure & Culture Dundee’s Local History Centre, said: “Penguins seem familiar to us now, from their appearances on television and as cartoon characters, but a century ago they were still very mysterious to British people.
“Penguins were also a main focus for the biological studies being undertaken on Scott’s expedition because they were thought to be a key specimen for understanding the process of evolution.”
Flash forward to modern day and the nod to penguins throughout the city centre reminds us of Dundee’s historic past.
Erin added: “Penguins may not have the most obvious connection to Dundee, but we’ve really taken to them.
“The statues of Emperor penguins at Discovery Point remind us of past voyages in the era of polar exploration which was very informed by Dundee’s expertise in shipbuilding and navigation.
“The Overgate penguins feel like part of the community, as they get involved by dressing up for events like graduations – you can’t help but love them.”
Curator at Dundee Heritage Trust, Louisa Attaheri, delved further into the link – with perhaps a slightly grim touch – as desperate times called for desperate measures during the Discovery Expedition.
She said: “Penguins were not always kept at a distance.
“Penguin stew was soon on the menu and the crew of Discovery would continue this link between Dundee and the Antarctic by studying and, on occasion, eating the birds they discovered.
“They appear to have captured the imagination of Dundonians throughout the years, as well as being a source of wonder and subject for study.”