Antarctic Heritage Trust Programme Manager Al Fastier explains the special process used to successfully remove blubber oil from the floor of Discovery Hut
There is a stack of seal blubber located within Discovery Hut. The blubber would have been used by the early explorers as a source of fuel for heating, cooking and lighting. The blubber could also be eaten. It’s fair to say it would’ve been a very versatile local resource.
During last year’s annual inspection programme the maintenance team noticed that the blubber stack was beginning to ooze oil on to the surrounding floor. This oil is impregnating the floor boards and is seeping closer and closer towards the entrance door. Visitors are stepping on it and carrying it through the hut on the soles of their boots.
To overcome this issue, the plan this year was to install a low-profile bund under the blubber. We always knew lifting the blubber was not going to be easy, but after much brainstorming and armed with a selection of wooden wedges, levers and rollers the carpentry team successfully lifted the blubber to expose a thick layer of black residual ooze!
At this stage the challenge was passed to the artefact conservators as the layer of ooze had to be removed before the bund could be installed. Very carefully, so as to not to damage the floor, they removed the blubber sludge using a selection of scrapers. The final film of oil was removed using an electric iron and absorbent paper.
Conservator Jane Hamill undertakes extreme ironing in Scott’s Discovery hut. Credit: AHT/Al Fastier
Zack Bennett and John Taylor next to the completed blubber bund in Scott’s Discovery hut. Credit: AHT/Al Fastier
With the bund installed the final challenge was to reverse the lifting process to sit the blubber within the bund. Using reference photographs taken before the blubber was moved, the team slowly and cautiously returned the blubber back to the same location, but this time sitting within the bund.
It was both a challenging and rewarding day celebrated by the team heading off to Scott Base for a hot shower to remove the pungent blubber aroma from our bodies.