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Captain Antarctica: Meet Real Life Superhero Sean McBride

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

How often in life do you get to meet a real life superhero? Strap in for a fun ride with Captain Antarctica, aka Sean McBride. A former member of Australia's Special Forces, he's studied anthropology, taught survival skills, organized rescues, created a character and blog dedicated to educating about Antarctica, and became a Buddhist Zen monk. Marvel, if you're listening, his juicy backstory starts at 36:27, and it rivals anything Hawkeye or Captain America have done.

In this conversation, the thoughtful and passionate Captain Antarctica shares his love for the driest, windiest, coldest, most magical place on earth. Grab a cup of coffee or a hot cocoa and join us for a deep dive into all things Antarctica.

And be sure to visit the Captain Antarctica Instagram, Facebook, website, and YouTube channel. Enjoy this transcript of our conversation, complete with photos and links to key places mentioned in our discussion.

[00:01] Dr. Diane: Wonder, curiosity, connection. Where will your adventures take you? I'm Dr. Diane, and thank you for joining me on today's episode of Adventures in Learning. So, welcome to the Adventures in Learning podcast. We have a very special treat today. We have a superhero in the studio with us. Captain Antarctica, also known as Sean McBride, is joining us, and we're going to be talking about Antarctica. We're going to be talking about Sean's many adventures as he's gotten to this place, and I think you're absolutely in for a treat. Captain Antarctica, aka Sean. Welcome to the show.

[00:40] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Thanks, Diane. Pleasure to be here. I'll just show my Captain Antarctica logo. And as I explained to you before the podcast, I don't have my purple cape with me because I left it somewhere, but it normally comes with a cape.

Who is Captain Antarctica?

[00:56] Dr. Diane: Well, I am so delighted to have you here. And I think before we can ask any other question, I need to know who is Captain Antarctica, and how did that come to be?

[01:07] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Captain Antarctica came to be because I wanted to spread the word about Antarctica. I've been obsessed with it for quite a while, and I did some research on it and found that adults and children absorb information better when it's presented by superheroes or under the guise of superheroes or in a comic and that kind of thing. And you may not know it, but Superman actually almost destroyed the Klu Klux Klan in America in the late 1940s.

[01:48] Dr. Diane: I didn’t know that.

[01:50] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Yes, it sounds bizarre, I know, but what happened was the Klu Klux Klan strangely, after World War II, when you just fought a war against a bunch of Nazis, the Klu Klux Klan were having a resurgence, and thousands of people were turning up to Klan rallies and that and this American guy didn't like what he was seeing and he infiltrated it and got all the information together and then presented it to the police, many of whom were Klan members and to Congress and whatever. And no one paid much attention. So he went to the creators of the Superman radio program and presented the information to them, and they wrote a story called Superman Against the Fiery Cross, something like that. And it was super popular. It was I think it was like an eight or twelve part series. And by the time it had finished, people were turning up to the Klu Klux Klan rallies to heckle them, not to join. And their membership dropped to zero. I mean, their new members dropped to zero, and all because of the power of Superman.

So I thought, well, if Superman could do that, Captain Antarctica might be able to contribute in a small way. And so we have a lot of issues in the world at the moment, from climate change to just take your pick, there's lots. And so I decided to create Captain Antarctica in order to spread the word about Antarctica, because people don't realize that other than its natural beauty, it's a place of science and peace and research and it's basically the biggest national park in the world. It's also the main governor of our climate in terms of air circulation, ocean circulation. Antarctica affects rainfall in the Pacific Islands, it affects Australia, the deep bottom water circulates around the planet over a 10,000 year period. Whole pile of things that Antarctica does. And if Antarctica goes, which is happening slowly because of climate change, then we are all going to suffer for it. And so I'm trying to cut through the misinformation that's out there and let people know what's going on.

[04:11] Dr. Diane: And for those who don't know, I discovered you through the Captain Antarctica blog. I had just gotten back from Antarctica and I was trying to answer some questions for a very curious six year old who had asked me a whole host of questions. And I was looking to make sure I was giving factual answers. And I stumbled upon this magical blog. And you had such good resources about the history, about the wildlife, the geography, I loved the oddities. And you also didn't hesitate to hit geopolitics, climate change and science. And I thought, this is an amazing resource. So I'm going to throw that in the show notes because I do want our listeners to check you out because I think it's incredible what kind of research went into building this blog.

[04:58] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Basically, as I mentioned to you earlier, I did this postgraduate certificate in Antarctic studies, but I've sort of been involved with the polar regions for a long time. I was up in the Arctic. I used to be a survival instructor before I retired from it. And so I spent most of my life teaching survival in wild places. And I was invited to Sweden and the 200 km beyond the Arctic Circle to teach survival to the military up there. And in that process I just fell in love with the polar regions and then I came back and I read everything I could about it. And so I keep my finger on the pulse about everything to do specifically with Antarctica, not so much Antarctic now. And I'm in touch with various scientists who taught me when I was doing my postgraduate certificate and basically read as much as I can and try and sift through the masses of information that's out there and present them in a way that people will go, oh, that's interesting.

The Allure of Antarctica: Remembering the First Experience

[06:06] Dr. Diane: So when was the first time you went to Antarctica? Can you describe what that experience was like?

[06:13] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: It was some years back now. It was a pretty wild experience because we were flying in in a C 130 Hercules and we had six attempts at it. Because you may not know this or you probably do, because you've been to Antarctica, the weather is very changeable.

[06:32] Dr. Diane: Yes.

[06:33] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Okay. It's like ten seasons in a day. And the Hercules aircraft, they can't land in more than 30 knots of crosswind. And they also can't land in blizzards and all that kind of stuff. And so they get to a certain point they're continually on the radio and they get to a certain point, and if it's no good, they have to turn back. So we would get in the plane, they'd start the engines. It wouldn't even leave the runway because the weather report would come back. Sometimes we turn up to the officers ready to go. We got on that plane twice and we got down to Antarctica, about 2 hours out from the continent. You could look down and see icebergs, that kind of thing, and then they did this and we had to turn back. So it was a ten hour trip to nowhere, basically. But the first time, the last time, they brought in a ski equipped Hercules and we actually made it in and flying over it. I was looking out the window and it was so bright, I thought I was getting reflection off cloud. And I put my sunglasses on and I realized it was Antarctica. I mean, it is dazzling, just dazzlingly bright. All that ice reflecting sunlight, and it's 24 hours sunlight down there during the summer months. It was just amazing. I was just blown away by it. And then we landed and I think I got out of the plane and I kissed the snow. We're so grateful to be there after our six attempts and just fell in love with the place. We camped on the Ross Ice Shelf out at Windless Bite, and at the time we were doing Glaciology, meteorology, and checking seals for tags to see if they were coming back to the same places. And it was just the most magical time. And I got to visit things like the Discovery Hut that Robert Falcon Scott built back in 1902. So that's what, 121 years old, and they were using it for their historic expedition. So, yeah, it's just the most amazing place on Earth as far as I'm concerned.

How has Antarctica changed over time?

[08:38] Dr. Diane: It really is. So you've been going for many years. What are some of the things you've noticed that have changed over time?

[08:46] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Well, I'd say I can't say visually that I've seen a change because there are people who've been going there for a lot longer than I have, and the scientists have been going there for 30 years. They'll tell you, well, this has changed, these glaciers are slipping back. And this has been shown from satellite photos and a lot of research that's been done that Antarctica is losing ice. But the place is massive. I mean, you would have to probably have a 20 year view of go to the same place, take photos, come back, which some people have done to show that it's actually receding. But Antarctica is bigger than Australia. It's as big as North America without Alaska. And in the winter months, the sea ice expands to double the size of it. So it's a massive place and very hard to see from a human perspective the changes that are going on, but we can see them from satellite imagery, that it has a net loss of ice, which, if it continues, will be an issue in the future.

[09:55] Dr. Diane: I was seeing I think it was an article last night that they had actually discovered an emperor colony that they hadn't known before from satellite imagery. Did you see that?

[10:06] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: I did. That's true. They're getting very clever. Now, a lot of the penguins eat krill and it makes this stool pink, and so they can spot these areas of pink from space. And the satellite resolution now is quite good, so they can count penguins and all kinds of stuff. So, yeah, it's pretty brilliant.

[10:32] Dr. Diane: I thought that was fascinating, but kind of connected to what you were just saying. I think that satellite imagery is giving us a better sense of what's there and what isn't than we've had before. Because, as you said, it's incredibly vast and it's hard to see from the ground just how far it goes. I mean, I know when I was there, we touched the very tip of the peninsula. We made it down as far as Petermann Island and the Yalours. We didn't get much further than that. And so I know there was so much more that I didn't see when I was there.

[11:04] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Yeah, you've got about another 5,000 to go, I think.

[11:08] Dr. Diane: Yeah, it was just so vast. And I have this sense of how big it is. But I think that's one of the things that's hard for us to explain to somebody is how much there is. But also what the danger is, is things are warming and glaciers are melting.

[11:24] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: And not well, especially on the peninsula, because the peninsula, as you know, it's sitting actually outside of the Antarctic Circle, so it's warming a lot faster. And so that's where most of the loss is coming from. The glaciers there are receding. East Antarctica is much bigger, much higher, much colder, and it's actually gaining a bit more snow because there's more moisture in the atmosphere from climate change. And so more snow is precipitating, but the net balance is a loss of billions of tons of ice every year. And you're right about these satellites. They're just doing such a great job mapping the place, showing the changes. Yeah, it's just brilliant.

What impacts could climate change have on Antarctica (and the rest of us)?

[13:18] Dr Diane: So what would be some of the, since we're talking about climate change right now, if things continue the way they're going, what are the impacts in terms of Antarctica, in terms of the diversity of life, in terms of what the impacts could mean to the rest of us? Why should we care?

[13:21] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Well, it's a good question because some people won't, no matter what they're told, and other people will. I will. I'm sure you would, too, because who wants to see the extinction of species? We've already caused the extinction of so many species on Earth that the Antarctic penguins, for instance, are going to be one of the next ones. But climate change is one of those things that will advantage some species and disadvantage others. I think the emperor penguin has just been recently put on the American endangered species list.

[13:58] Dr. Diane: Yes.

[13:59] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: They think that that will probably go extinct within 100 years if we don't do something. And the Adele penguins, from memory, have increased because there are certain advantages to more rocky places, because the ice is melting, so they can breed more. So it's a mixed bag in terms of that. But I don't think anyone who has seen an Emperor penguin wants to see them disappear. Just from what you call it a personal vested interest point of view.

If the ice in Antarctica goes, and this is the extreme, if all of it melted, of course we'd be looking at, what, 60 meters rise in the ocean levels. And that's not going to happen tomorrow. Okay? That's going to happen over time, but it may not be in my lifetime or your lifetime, but your children or your grandchildren will probably start feeling the effects of it. A lot of the world's viable areas will probably become non viable.

And you've got this changing impact of the climate tipping points that if things start to happen, you just need one little bit extra to go wrong, and then it tips things and it starts speeding up. So it could happen a lot faster than we think.

And people will say, you've probably seen this yourself, people often say as a thing about against global warming being a hoax or whatever, that the ice shelves are floating on water already, so therefore they won't contribute to water level rise. And that's very true. I mean, no one would disagree with that. But what they don't seem to understand is that those ice shelves are actually holding back glaciers, right? So if I have this glass of water and it has an ice cube floating in it, as the ice melts, that water level is not going to rise because the ice is already displaced water and it's sitting in the water, so it will just melt and you won't get a rise. But if you had glaciers feeding onto this and they're back here and that ice melts and was holding them back, and they come in that's when you start to get water level rise. And so as the ice shelfs retreat and as they diminish, you'll get movement of glaciers into the ocean, which will increase the water level. So a lot of places in the world like New York and there's many cities, will be underwater, but it won't be for a long period of time.

So we have time to either get our act together and diminish our CO2 production or start building some resilience into our system to be able to cope with it and hopefully do both. But we've got a lot of misinformation out there that's being put out by vested interest. And they're only concerned with the short term profit that they may lose if we start switching to a carbon free future.

How do we change the narrative?

[17:19] Dr. Diane: What are some things that we can do to change the narrative? That's one of the things that superheroes do is they come in, they disrupt the timeline, and they change the future. What can we do to be superheroes now?

[17:32] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Yes. Well, it's an interesting question because our own activities obviously impact climate change. We can move away from ICE vehicles, internal combustion engine vehicles, towards renewables.

[17:56] Dr. Diane: Sure, of course.

[17:58] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Okay. But the thing is, not everyone can afford an electric vehicle. There are small things you can do in terms of minimizing your plastic usage. For instance, because plastics are a result of fossil fuels created from oil. And not only are they polluting the oceans and the rivers and all that kind of thing, but they're also contributing in their production to CO2.

Now, we could do a lot of different things which will minimize the CO2 to some degree, but the real problem is to some degree it's our population and some degree it's our use of energy. And we are very wasteful in terms of energy. And so these power plants are churning out CO2. We've got lots of different contributors to CO2 and I think the companies have to start taking some responsibility. And luckily, a lot of them realize the writing's on the wall. So they're diversifying into renewables and trying to minimize their impact.

But at the same time, there's an awful lot of greenwashing as well where they're saying, we're doing this, but at the same time they're paying for further exploration for oil and whatever. So I'm not sure I have an answer that will work.

But I think the most important thing is for people to become educated. And I guess that's my contribution to it is to educate people to what's going on. I don't focus completely on climate change. It comes up every now and again. But by getting people in love with Antarctica, I think you have to love something in order to want to protect it. Yes, and if you want to protect it, you might do something else to do that.

[19:56] Dr. Diane: I think that's become sort of my driving thing. Having experienced Antarctica is that whole philosophy of you don't protect something you don't love and you don't love something you don't know. And so how do we introduce people and help them to fall in love with it? And so that's going to be the next question I ask.

[20:16] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Exactly.

What would you share to help people fall in love with Antarctica?

[20:16] Dr. Diane: If you could help people fall in love with Antarctica, what are the things you would want them to know right now? What are the things you would want to share?

[20:24] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Okay, so I think I would tell them that Antarctica to me is the most spectacular place on Earth. I was flying over it just on Sunday and it is just amazing. It's amazing from the ground, amazing from the air. I think it should be on everyone's bucket list, except in the process of getting there. Obviously you're contributing to the CO2, so it's a bit of a trouble.

But there are now more and more audio visual ways of doing virtual reality type ways of experiencing Antarctica. And I was down at the Australian Antarctic Division a little while back and they gave me some VR goggles to put on and it was fantastic. I was flying over Antarctica, I was zooming under the water with penguins. It was just the most amazing thing. And I would encourage people, if they ever see some sort of virtual reality presentation of Antarctica, to go and give it a shot because it is just mind blowing. Anyway. So my message to people would be to think of it like this. Antarctica is the coldest, highest windiest driest continent on Earth. So it's superlative on all levels. The temperature down there has gotten down to minus from satellite. This was measured just recently. -92 degrees. And that's celsius, remember?

[22:04] Dr. Diane: Wow.

[22:04] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Yeah. So petrol freezes at -60, and so this is a very cold place, but it's not cold everywhere. On the coast when you were on the peninsula, I suppose it would have been around about, what, zero, two degrees?

[22:19] Dr. Diane: Yeah. Fahrenheit. It was 34, 36.

[22:23] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Just above freezing.

[22:24] Dr. Diane: Yeah, it was pleasant.

[22:26] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Yeah. It varies. You get up onto the polar plateau, which is around about 10,000 ft or almost 3000 meters. It's very cold and it's difficult to breathe because you have to acclimatize. It's also had some of the strongest winds in the world, up to 300 km an hour, which I have to convert to American. I'm not sure what it is.

[22:51] Dr. Diane: That's okay. 300 km an hour is plenty fast.

[22:54] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: It's fast. It's fast. And it's also technically a desert because the snowfall is only about 20 cm a year. But it's been around for 15 million years, I suppose, as an ice covered block. And the more you look into it, the more you find really interesting things about Antarctica. Like it's not just ice, it's ice sitting on land.

[23:20] Dr. Diane: Yes.

[23:21] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: And the difference between Antarctica and the Arctic is that the Arctic is ice on water, surrounded by land. Whereas Antarctica is ice on land surrounded by water. And underneath Antarctica, you have, on East Antarctica you have a block of a large, pretty much solid block of land with bit of differentiation. But West Antarctica is basically ice over islands. So if you took all the ice away, you'd have another continent that was very different. So if you look into it, you become more and more fascinated with Antarctica.

And from there I had many years ago, I studied philosophy at university and I remember my teacher saying, I haven't got a pen in front of me, but there we go. He said if you knew everything about this pen, you would know about everything. Because to know everything about this pen would mean, you'd know, how far it was from the sun, you'd know what it was composed of, you'd know how those minerals formed. It expands. And it's the same thing with Antarctica. You start digging and you start finding more and more interesting stuff about it.

And to me it is just an amazing place with just a fantastic history, wildlife, climate. And as you spoke before, the anomalies — people have a lot of conspiracies and myths and beliefs about Antarctica which are just fascinating. And so I encourage people to get involved in learning about it. And as they learn about it, one, they come to love it and two, they might decide it's time to do something about it and get active. Because if everyone just sits back and waits, our temperature is just going to keep going up.

[25:15] Dr. Diane: Absolutely. And as you were talking, I was sort of thinking about the things that drive that love for Antarctica, the interesting new things that you keep discovering and learning. And for me it was the glaciers and the icebergs and recognizing that underneath those glaciers there are canyons and rivers and it's not just that solid mass of land and it was the diversity of life in the peninsula. Seeing and hearing gentoo penguins, I'm still dreaming in penguin.

[25:50] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Yes, they're amazing animals. You start looking into penguins and you find all these amazing things about their limbs are kind of operated at a distance without fat and muscle around them because that would get too cold. I mean, things like that, you think, wow. And the speed they can travel underwater, I mean, I think penguins can travel about 36 km underwater an hour.

[26:17] Dr. Diane: Incredible. And like, to watch them porpoise as they make their way across is just phenomenal. And to hear whales’ song. I actually heard whales, I heard humpback whales singing and it was the most amazing sound I had ever heard. It was so quiet and it's hard to convey sort of the quality of the light and just how incredible summer light is.

[26:42] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: And as you said, quiet. I mean, that is one of the biggest attractions to me of Antarctica. The entire continent at any one time will never have more than 5000 people on it spread over 5000 km or so. Well, millions of millions of miles of land or ice. And so when you're there, the only background noise you get is the wind at times. Not always, but most of the time. And no planes flying over unless you're near a base that has that. And so you must have, did you go in Zodiacs onto the water?

[27:18] Dr. Diane: We did, yeah.

[27:20] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: So if they turn off the Zodiac motor, it's just it's quiet.

[27:25] Dr. Diane: And I actually kayaked around Cuverville Island and so it was again, so quiet.

[27:31] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Even better. Even better. It's the sound of the paddles.

The Antarctic Treaty -- A Place of Peace and Science?

[27:38] Dr. Diane: I was just going to ask you one of the things I was thinking about with Antarctica that I hadn't appreciated until I was there is the idea that it's not owned by anybody. That because of the treaty, it's designated as a place of peace and science.

[27:54] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: I know.

[27:55] Dr. Diane: Which to me is absolutely amazing. And I know the treaty is up for ratification, reratification in about 20-30 years. Is that correct?

[28:08] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: People say that, but it's not quite the case. What would have to happen is that the main issue is probably there was a mining ban in Antarctica which came out of the Madrid Protocol. I don't know if you're old enough to remember Jacques Cousteau.

[28:27] Dr. Diane: Yes.

[28:29] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Well, Jacques Cousteau basically saved Antarctica from mining by he went down there, saw the place, thought, this place is amazing. And then these governments of the world were doing this sneaky behind the scenes agreement to start mining the place. And Jacques Cousteau said that's crazy. And he started getting petitions, a petition going in France, got 50,000 petitions on that. Went to see Mitteron at the time. The Prime Minister convinced him it was a bad move. Then he went to America, got 2 million signatures, and our Australian Prime Minister at the time, Bob Hawke, became a friend of his and got on board as well. And then he spoke to Christopher, spoke to Bush, and Bush went, yeah, let's not do that. And so they formed this Madrid Protocol, which is about the environment now, that can be looked at again in 2048. But to do anything about it, you would need with the Antarctic Treaty, you need a unanimous vote. So every party would have to agree to relook at it and jig it up again. And that's very unlikely to happen.

[29:46] Dr. Diane: Well, that gives me some hope then.

[29:48] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Yeah, in my opinion that's unlikely to happen. But you never know what's going on behind the scenes. But as far as the treaty goes, it basically started in 1959. And you imagine it the time of the Cold War and the Russians and the Americans and all these parties, they all agreed, let's keep this place for peace and research.

[30:10] Dr. Diane: Phenomenal.

[30:11] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: I know. And it's lasted this long. I mean, what's that, 60? Same age as me, 63 years. Basically. It was ratified in 60, I think it was. So that treaty has probably been the most successful treaty on this planet. And Antarctica is considered to be a condominium. And when I think of condominium, I think of a block of units. But basically it means what you're saying that it's not actually owned by anyone. There are claims on it. Australia actually has one of the biggest claims on it, but because of the treaty, everyone said, all right, we're not going to get rid of our claims, but we're just going to put them on hold and let's all agree to look at it down the track, maybe. So it's been working. It's been working for 60 years, and there might be tensions like Australia and China, for instance, on a political level, has had a lot of tensions over the last few years, and they started banning some of our products and all this kind of thing. But in Antarctica, the Australian Antarctic Division and the Chinese work very well together. They help each other out. Sometimes we use their icebreaker. Sometimes they use our ship that we've got now. Sometimes we assist with rescues and just really good cooperation. And it's almost like a signpost to what the world could be.

What's some of the coolest science coming out of Antarctica?

[32:37] Dr. Diane: What’s some of the coolest science to have come out of Antarctica over the last 60 years or so?

[32:56] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Coolest science? Okay, well, I don't know if you consider it cool, but just kind of quirky. For instance, there's a type of fish down there that has, like, an antifreeze in its blood, and they have gone from that to putting a facsimile of that into ice cream so that ice cream doesn't develop those crystals. You know, if you leave.

[33:23] Dr. Diane: Yeah, like the freezer burn.

[33:25] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Yeah. Well, the ice cream that has this additive, you won't get that. So that's just one aspect. There's some beauty creams that are based on certain types of algae that have come out of Antarctica. There's one. And one of the things I found interesting, I guess, from a scientific point of view, is you've heard of the Dry Valleys?

[34:05] Dr. Diane: Yes.

[34:07] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Well, the Dry Valleys haven't seen rain in 2 million years, and they get a little bit of snow precipitation. It gets blown away by the katabatic winds. And Antarctica is actually quite alive with bacteria and that kind of thing. They're all over the place. But there's one little spot in the Dry Valleys that has no life at all. And that's really rare to find a place with no life. And so we've been interested in finding life on other planets than that. But this is an indication that we might not find it, which I found really interesting. I mean, there's lots of other places where the life is there in extreme conditions, in like, vents off volcanoes and incredibly cold places and that so we probably will find something at some stage. But this one spot showed you that it's possible to have a place that has no life at all.

Another thing that they found was that there's only one volcano in Antarctica on the surface, which is active, which is Mount Erebis, but they've found at least 18 volcanoes under the ice over in the unclaimed territory, which I find amazing as well. So it's gradually melting ice as well. It's not really having a big impact in terms of climate change and destroying the ice. But the fact that you've got these volcanoes under the ice is just pretty amazing. And there was one other I was going to tell you about. What was it? Slipped my mind.

[35:54] Dr. Diane: Well, if it comes back, we'll talk about it.

[35:56] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: I'll tell you about it. But I should have mentioned before, besides that website, it's not really a plug, but it just occurred to me, every week I put up something new about Antarctica on Facebook under Captain Antarctica. So people will find out things about Antarctica from that.

[36:16] Dr. Diane: Oh, good. And I was going to ask, do you do Instagram as well, or just Facebook?

[36:20] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Oh, yes, there's an Instagram page as well. And it's the same information, but it's shorter on Instagram because they don't let you use as many characters.

What's the backstory of Captain Antarctica? How did Sean McBride come to assume the cape?

[36:27] Dr. Diane: Right, all right, so look for you on Instagram, on Facebook, on the website. So let's take, I want to back up for just a moment because I realized I launched right into Antarctica with you because I love Antarctica so much. I want to back up a little bit to your journey because I was reading on the web page and Sean, you've had such an incredible life. And so one of the questions I like to ask people is describe your adventure in learning, how did you get to where you are today. And I'm just wondering if you can give us a synopsis of your journey, because you've done so many things that led up to becoming Captain Antarctica, and I think people would find that interesting.

[37:06] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Okay. But it's one of those things like how long is a piece of string and where do you start? I'll try and do a condensed version. So basically, I was always interested in the outdoors. And I became a survival instructor when I was 24. And I taught all over the world. And I joined Special Forces when I was in my 30s because boys own adventure, all that kind of stuff.

And at some point I realized that for the first half of my life, I've been doing everything for me. And I felt like now it was time to give back. So after I left Special Forces, I went overseas to the Middle East. And I was looking for somehow to help. But I realized that the people there have strong social connections. They didn't really need my help. So I just kind of put that on the back burner for a while.

And then I had a young daughter. She's 23 now, but she was five years old at the time. And she was sleeping in the bed. And I was leaning against the wall of her room just watching her, and this voice came into my head. It sounds kind of woo, but this voice came to my head and said, there are children her age being abused in Southeast Asia. And I thought, Where did that come from? What a strange thing. I mean, it was my voice, but why.

[38:36] Dr. Diane: Where did that come from?

[38:38] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Where did that come from? Right? And I remember saying to myself, well, if I could do anything about it, I would. But at that time, I think I'd finished my degree. I studied anthropology. I had a degree in anthropology. I'd been out of work for two years. I was pretty much broke, and I couldn't see much of a future. And I think about a week after that, the army had come across with the money, my back pay, that they owed me. And that was about $15,000, I think. And I thought I'll take that as a sign.

So I went to Southeast Asia to rescue kids from brothels, and I promised my daughter I'd rescue five kids. So I went to Southeast Asia. I spent three months there. I've learned a lot about how the trade worked. And I rescued these five kids. And then I came back, and I realized that that was just a drop in the bucket. And I went and gave a talk at a Rotary Club and two of the gentlemen there came up to me afterwards and said, we'd like to help. And so we set up a charity, and we spent the next seven years rescuing kids from brothels and helping hill tribe villages. And we built a craft center and we put toilets in and we rescued 176 kids from brothels and so on and so forth.

And then I think it was about 2012, we went up into northern Thailand and we rescued these 23 kids. I think it was boys and girls that were on their way to brothels down south. And we stepped on a lot of toes by doing that. There was a big charity up there that was run by this local and he had a fair bit of power. And we upset the police who should have been investigating this stuff, and they came down hard on us and they got a lazy journalist in who wrote an article saying that we'd faked the rescue and that basically imploded the whole charity. We didn't ever really come back from that. And they said that I was under investigation by the Federal Police, that the Thai police were were investigating me and there was a warrant for my arrest. I think there was actually, but this is eleven years later, the Thai police quietly shelved the report because they knew that their own people were involved. The Federal Police in Australia never contacted me, partly because they knew what we were doing, so they didn't have a problem.

But because the charity was my life at that stage, I went into a depression. And that depression was a mild depression, but it lasted for quite a long time. And a friend of mine came over and she said, this is a short version, I'm sorry it's taking so long. A friend of mine, psychologist, came over to me and she brought this glass jar with her and she said, I want you to write on a piece of paper things you want to do in the future, like a bucket list, just one at a time, and put them in this thing. And so I did that, but I only had one piece of paper in it and that was go to Antarctica. And so what happened was that that goal of going to Antarctica actually dragged me out of depression. And I looked around to try and figure out how I could get there and I tapped into my superannuation, which I think you call 401, is that right?

[42:28] Dr. Diane: Yes. 401K.

[42:33] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Plus savings I had, and I ended up doing this postgraduate certificate in Antarctic studies, went to Antarctica and became Captain Antarctica to spread the word and I've never looked back. I really love what I'm doing and I think it will go further and further as time goes on, as my social image increases, I suppose.

But I have a long term goal. I mean, I'd love to explore Antarctica more and it's expensive and it's a long way away, but I've been talking to the Australian Antarctic Division about reenacting Sir Hubert Wilkins first flight in Antarctica but with an electric aircraft. And so there's some interest there for that. And just during COVID I went and got my pilot's license and then went out and bought a plane, as you do. So I've been practicing with this plane, and eventually I'll probably convert it to electric hydrogen or something. So that's my long term goal. So that's where we are right now. Sorry that took so long.

Where do you see Captain Antarctica going in the next 5-10 years?

[43:47] Dr. Diane: No, that was great. And I was going to ask, as you're looking at Captain Antarctica and the things that you do to educate people, you've got the website, you do Facebook, the Instagram, where do you see it going in the next five to ten years? What would be your dream for it?

[44:03] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Okay, well, obviously to build up a bigger audience to spread the word about Antarctica. One of the offshoots, the spin offs from being Captain Antarctica and doing this is that I've been invited to do the commentary on the overflights of Antarctica in seven four, seven, eight, seven s you know, the big the big aircraft. And just recently, we were the I think we were the first commercial flight to fly to the South Pole. Fly over the South Pole. Yeah. And I did the commentary for that. And last Sunday, I just did the commentary on a flight to the Adele coast in Antarctica over the French base of Dumont d’Urville. So that's one of the spin offs of it, and getting my name out there, I suppose.

And I guess I should point out, I don't want it to sound like an ego trip, because one of the things that good things that came out of my charity imploding and all the negative stuff was that if I had a big ego, then, which I might have had, it certainly got kicked in the guts. And so I realized that I couldn't change other people so much as change myself. So I ended up becoming, I'd studied Zen Buddhism for a long time. I ended up becoming a Zen monk. And part of that is that you're trying to let go of the ego and just be an instrument for something higher instead of letting your own ego get in the way. So the whole purpose of Captain Antarctica is to inspire, really to inspire people to get up and do something, to inspire people that they can achieve things in the world. And that's pretty much about it.

[46:05] Dr. Diane: That makes sense. Are you working with schoolchildren in Australia?

[46:10] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: I've been giving talks at libraries, and some subjects are more suited to kids, so they they organize kids kids days, and I'm hoping to do more of that. I love the fact that you see people like and I'm certainly not on this level, but you see people like Chris Hemsworth as Thor, visiting hospitals, that kind of thing. Well, I'd love to go and talk to sick kids about Antarctica, and maybe I can get my hands on a friendly zookeeper who'll lend me a penguin. You never know. Probably couldn't bring it in with sick kids. But anyway so I'm hoping to do more of that in the future as well. Yeah, just anything that will inspire kids. As you must know yourself, there's a great kick to that curiosity that children have and just tweaking it to make them go and look further.

[47:08] Dr. Diane: Exactly. Kids are natural scientists. They have that desire to know, they ask the good questions. And I think our job as the adults around them is to support that and to provide the information to allow them to make good decisions and to go further and to explore for themselves.

[47:25] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Absolutely. It's even more important now because there's so much misinformation out there that they need to develop critical skills to be able to sift through it without just blindly accepting anything that they see.

What are the big questions kids should be asking about Antarctica?

[47:41] Dr. Diane: Absolutely. So, last question I want to ask you then, today is thinking about kids and about building up a love of Antarctica and sort of a desire to learn more. What would be sort of the big overarching questions that you think they should dig deeper into, that they should be looking for information about and asking about.

[48:06] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: Okay. I think probably the question that would probably lead to so much more is, why is Antarctica important? And if you can answer that question, then it takes you down. I don't want to say a rabbit hole, because that kind of leads to conspiracy, but it will take you into areas that you never knew existed before. It'll take you into the history, it'll take you into the climatology, it will take you into the wildlife. It will lead you on a journey that is just magnificent, is my feeling.

[48:44] Dr. Diane: Well, I think you're right. Captain Antarctica, Sean McBride, thank you so much for joining me on the Adventures in Learning podcast. I will make sure I include your website and all of your social media in the show notes so that people can find you, and I look forward to checking in with you again later and hearing how it's going.

[49:02] Captain Antarctica/Sean McBride: I would love that, Diane, thank you for having me on today. Been a pleasure.

[49:05] Dr. Diane: It's been a pleasure. You've been listening to the Adventures in Learning podcast with your host, Dr. Diane. If you like what you're hearing, please subscribe, download and let us know what you think, and please tell a friend. If you want the full show notes and the pictures, please go to We look forward to you joining us on our next adventure.

If you love Antarctica and want to learn more, check out these additional Adventures in Learning stories:

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