|Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas|
One of the most famously strange scientific meals occurred on January 13, 1951, at the 47th Explorers Club Annual Dinner (ECAD) when members purportedly dined on a frozen woolly mammoth. The prehistoric meat was supposedly found on Akutan Island in Alaska, USA, by the eminent polar explorers' Father Bernard Rosecrans Hubbard, “the Glacier Priest,” and Captain George Francis Kosco of the US Navy.
This much-publicized meal captured the public’s imagination and became an enduring legend and source of pride for the Club, popularizing an annual menu of “exotics” that continues today, making the Club as well-known for its notorious hors d’oeuvres like fried tarantulas and goat eyeballs as it is for its notable members such as Teddy Roosevelt and Neil Armstrong.
The Yale Peabody Museum holds a sample of meat preserved from the 1951 meal, interestingly labeled as a South American Giant Ground Sloth, Megatherium, not Mammoth. The specimen of meat from that famous meal was originally designated BRCM 16925 before a transfer in 2001 from the Bruce Museum to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (New Haven, CT, USA) where it gained the number YPM MAM 14399.
The specimen is now permanently deposited in the Yale Peabody Museum with the designation YPM HERR 19475 and is accessible to outside researchers. The meat was never fixed in formalin and was initially stored in isopropyl alcohol before being transferred to ethanol when it arrived at the Peabody Museum. DNA extraction occurred at Yale University in a clean room with equipment reserved exclusively for aDNA analyses.
In 2016, Jessica Glass and her colleagues sequenced a fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome-b gene and studied archival material to verify its identity, which if genuine, would extend the range of Megatherium over 600% and alter views on ground sloth evolution. Their results showed that the meat was not Mammoth or Megatherium, but a bit of Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas. So much for elaborate legends. The prehistoric dinner was likely meant as a publicity stunt. Glass's study emphasizes the value of museums collecting and curating voucher specimens, particularly those used for evidence of extraordinary claims. Not so long before Glass et al. did their experiment, a friend's mother (and my kayaking partners) served up a steak from her freezer to dinner guests in Castlegar that hailed from 1978. Tough? Inedible? I have it on good report that the meat was surprisingly divine.
Reference: Glass, J. R., Davis, M., Walsh, T. J., Sargis, E. J., & Caccone, A. (2016). Was Frozen Mammoth or Giant Ground Sloth Served for Dinner at The Explorers Club?. PloS one, 11(2), e0146825. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0146825