103rd Explorer's Club Annual Dinner 2007

Explorer's Club annual dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York
[just show me the pictures] Douglas Seifert invited me to attend the 103rd Explorer's Club Annual Dinner (ECAD), which took place on March 17, 2007, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. The Explorer's Club was founded in 1904 and is an "international, multidisciplinary, professional society dedicated to the advancement of field research and the ideal that it is vital to preserve the instinct to explore." The annual dinner's goals are "to review the year in exploration, honor the world’s top explorers, and break bread together." This year's theme was polar exploration, and Master of Ceremonies Dan Rather presented the evening's honorees and award recipients.

Eric Cheng in front of the Exporer's Club seal (in ice)

At the dinner, I shared table A-37 with Douglas Seifert, Al Vinjamur, Diana (Douglas' non-blood-related cousin), Lauren Matic, Ruth Petzold, Ivi Kimmel, and Miles O'Brien (CNN space anchor).

Dan Rather presented a short video presentation about each honoree and award recipient, and club president Daniel Bennett introduced animal handlers who brought out baby black bears (dressed up as polar bears), a lynx, an arctic wolf, a baby black buck, an African crow, and a raptor of some sort that flew around impressively as it tried to hit a swinging lure in the center of the ballroom. The food at the Waldorf was fair, but paled in comparison to the array of novelty appetizers available at the cocktail reception before dinner.

North American beaver, nutria, and ostrich egg.
[insert joke about what beaver tastes like here.
answer: "why, like nutria, of course!"]

Here is a sampling of what I saw available at the reception:

  • thresher shark (boo!)
  • Sweet and sour bovine penis with asian vegetables
  • Teriyaki-glazed cockroaches and scorpions on a stick, with edible flowers
  • Roasted alligator, spiced shining and smiling
  • Oven-roasted North American beaver, nutria, and ostrich egg
  • Honey-glazed tarantula
  • Pork bung sausage with brandied dried fruits
  • Mealworm maki with Asian vegetable and ponzu
  • Whole roasted lamb with rosemary garlic and lemon zest, and whole roasted mediterranean goat with saffron and Spanish lives
  • Hawaiian moonfish (hiss!)
  • Sturgeon
  • Pork uterus, mandago style
  • Bison sliders
  • Rattlesnake

The bugs were by far the most popular appetizer, and I saw lots of people carrying around cockroaches on a stick.

Teriyaki-glazed cockroaches and scorpions on a stick

Al Vinjamur and I both decided to give the teriyaki-glazed cockroaches a try. I'm a pretty adventurous person, but I have to say that eating a cockroach required me to completely shut off all of my urges and instincts. The carapace broke up upon mastication, but was very difficult to mash up into small enough pieces to easily swallow. The body was fleshy and white inside, and burst out with the first bite. There was virtually no sauce on the thing, so there was nothing to cover up the taste. Yummy.

Al and I each eat a cockroach

The underwater people I ran into included Mike McDowell (Deep Ocean Expeditions), Douglas Seifert (photographer, writer, playboy, and my host), Wolcott Henry, David Doubilet (National Geographic) and Jen Hayes, and Ty Sawyer (Sport Diver Magazine, Islands Magazine) and Michelle. After the dinner, we made our way through drunken Irish people (Happy St. Patrick's Day!) and set up camp in a cozy bar downstairs, where we proceeded to go through many bottles of wine, ice wine, and champagne. I was particularly excited to meet David Doubilet and Jen Hayes, whose work in the industry is legendary. Both David and Jen had been on my mind recently because our paths had very nearly crossed last month out in West Papua. During the 15-day trip, the boat manager spoke nearly non-stop about "Mr. David."

David Doubilet, Jen Hayes, Ty Sawyer, Michelle, Eric Cheng, and Wolcott Henry
at the Explorer's Club Annual Dinner (photo: Al Vinjamur)

I finally made it home to Al's place at around 3am. The next morning, we all met back up at the Explorer's Club open house, which offered both brunch and daytime seminars to interested members of the public. A room upstairs was museum-like and contained all sorts of preserved animals and animal parts, including a narwhal tooth, sperm whale penis, cheetah, lion, leopard, black rhino, and more. It was like being in the Natural History Museum (whose curator was upstairs, answering questions), except that we could reach out and grab things. You know, like sperm whale penis.

Douglas Seifert, Al Vinjamur, Eric Cheng, and cheetah

Some people might think that it's strange to have dead things all over a clubhouse that represents discovery, exploration, and (increasingly) conservation. I, myself, had such feelings when I first walked upstairs, but then I gave it some more thought. Scientific exploration in the area of biological sciences has always and probably will always also involve the study of dead animals. The club is relatively old, and that not that long ago, "exploration" -- even the non-scientific kind -- was nearly synonymous with killing stuff that we didn't know anything about. These days, it's not looked upon so favorably to go out and kill something exotic just to mount it on your wall, but the top floor of the Explorer's Club building is both a museum and a tribute to explorers of days past. Plus, there's a sperm whale penis in there, and that's just cool.

You can see all 48 photos at my Flickr gallery. There are photos of nearly all the food items I referred to above.