South Shetland Islands - A string of
Islands not administered by any one nation but currently covered
by the Antarctic Treaty where all territorial claims are suspended.
Location - 960 km (600miles) south of Tierra
del Fuego at the tip of South America, about 160 km (100miles)
north of the Antarctic Peninsula, separated from the latter
by the Bransfield Strait.
Unofficial "Capital of Antarctica"
on King George Island with bases of 12 different nations.
8 permanently manned bases and 4
summer only only bases. All run by the national Antarctic programs
of various countries.
Highest Point -
Livingstone Island 2400m (7800ft)
The South Shetland
Islands are a string of islands running parallel to the north west
coast of the Antarctic peninsula. The South Shetlands are
almost completely ice covered. About 2-3 percent is ice free, usually
along the coast, where all life is found whether penguins, seals,
or the human inhabitants of the various bases.
The South Shetlands
are usually visited as a part of a trip to the Antarctic Peninsula
as they are directly on the sailing path from South America.
The islands are frequently
visited by tourist cruise ships and each has a different character.
From north to south, the main islands are:
A very familiar name to anyone even
vaguely versed in Antarctic history as it is where 22 members
of Shackleton's Trans-Antarctic "Endurance" expedition
were stranded in 1915 after their ship was crushed in Weddell
Sea pack ice. They spent 135 days on the island while Shackleton
and a small party set off on another journey to South Georgia
to fetch help in the James Caird one of the lifeboats from
the by then sunken Endurance. This is widely regarded as
one of, if not the most incredible small boat journey ever.
Elephant Island is 60km long and
40km wide, with penguin rookeries (chinstraps) and some
very old moss banks (over 2000 years old). On the south
western side of the island at Stinker Point, is a place
called Wreck Bay, where there is some wreckage from a ship.
In 1998 these remains were recognized as being probable
flotsam from Shackleton's Endurance. Landings on Elephant
island are not common as it is often difficult to approach
due to sea and weather conditions.
largest of the South Shetland Islands and the least isolated
and least typical place in Antarctica. Why? because twelve
different countries have a base here.
The island is about 1295 sq km, more than
90% of it being glaciated, so the bases are squeezed into
quite a small area. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Poland,
Russia, South Korea, and Uruguay have year round bases,
while Ecuador, Germany, Peru and the US have summer only
The island is quite low and flat and the
coast line is broken into many bays and fjords. There is
a variety of wildlife found on the island including Antarctic
terns, chinstrap and Adélie penguins, blue-eyed shags
and southern giant petrels.
One of many
Penguin Islands in various places around Antarctica. This one was
named by the explorer Bransfield in 1820. A small volcanic island
that allows the visitor a (relatively) easy walk up to the highest
point Deacon Peak, 170m (544ft) for some excellent views of the
surrounding seas. A regularly visited site with chinstrap and Adelie
penguins, southern giant petrels, Antarctic terns, skuas, kelp gulls
and fur seals.
Rarely visited, an
active volcano that rises to 240m.
as the letters "HO", they were named after
the British Admiralty's Hydrographic Office. Gentoo
and Chinstrap penguin colonies, extensive moss and lichen
First chartered by the Discovery Expeditions in 1935.
As early as 1820,
Yankee Harbour on the southwest side of Greenwich Island was a valuable
anchorage for sealers (who knew it as Hospital Cove). Today it remains
a common anchorage point because of its protected position.
its name suggests a crescent shaped island, very
small at about 2 km long. The Argentinean naval
base Tenientee Camaraais occupied in the summer
months only.. A possible landing place with a sizable
rookery of chinstrap penguins as well as nesting
Antarctic terns and kelp gulls. Whales may be seen
off shore against a stunning back drop of surrounding
Chinstrap Penguins (Pygoscelis Antarcticus) in a summer
The Byers Peninsula on western end of Livingston Island's
is protected as a "SSSI" Site of Special Scientific
Interest under the Antarctic Treaty because it contains
the greatest concentration of 19th-century historical sites
In the early years of the 19th century Livingston
Island was a major sealing centre. Hannah Point, named after
the British sealer "Hannah" (from Liverpool),
wrecked in the South Shetlands on Christmas Day 1820 is
one of the most popular stops in Antarctica. A fantastic
place for viewing wildlife at close quarters, there are
large chinstrap and gentoo penguin rookeries here (with
occasional macaroni penguins),
blue-eyed shags, skuas,
Wilson's storm petrels, southern elephant and southern fur
The island has the summer only Spanish station, Juan Carlos
Primero, and the Bulgarian base, St Kliment Ohridskiy also
summer only. Livingston Island has the highest point of
the South Shetlands at 2400m (7800ft).
famous location in Antarctica is the collapsed (but still
active) volcanic cone that is Deception Island.
Protected by high cliffs and a narrow entrance (Neptune's
Bellows) this 12km wide amphitheatre is one of the safest
natural harbours in the world. It was first used by sealers
as a base for operations and then later by whalers.
By the 1914-1915 season, thirteen whaling
factories had been built here and many relics from this
time can still be seen abandoned in various places. Deception
Island is a very popular place to stop for tourist ships
as you can go "swimming" in the waters of Pendulum
Cove that are heated by ongoing volcanic activity about
a mile below the waters inside the collapsed caldera. "Swimming"
is a relative term as the reality consists of sitting in
the shallows between the too-hot volcanically heated waters
and the too cold icy Antarctic ocean waters. If it starts
to get cold, stir up some of the black volcanic sand to
release some more heat, if it gets too warm, move towards
the cooler open sea.
In the 1920-1921 season, the water here boiled and stripped
the paint from the hulls of the whaling ships, an eruption
in 1969 destroyed the British base. Deception Island last
erupted as recently as 1991-1992 with more activity reported
The landscape is very strange, more of a moonscape consisting
of dark volcanic sand and rocks, all the more strange for
the penguins that are found here in such large numbers in
such an unusual location.
There are two summer only bases here, Spain's Gabriel
de Castilla and Argentina's Decepción. Hundreds of
thousands of penguins nest on Deception Island.
Abandoned Whaling Station, Whaler's
Bay, Deception Island Photographic Print
Telefon Bay crater - Deception
|Why Visit the South
One or more places on the South Shetlands will almost
certainly be on the itinerary of every Antarctic Peninsula
cruise due to the ease of access and variety of interesting
places to visit. That aside, they are a fascinating
place to go and give a great feeling of a variety of
aspects of Antarctica.
Make sure you take your swimming things if you visit
Deception Island, you're bound to regret not having
swum in the Antarctic Ocean if you don't. Deception
Island is the most comfortable place to swim in Antarctica
- far more preferable than jumping into any other bit
of the Antarctic Ocean that pretty much hovers around
freezing point all year round (been there, done that,
didn't enjoy it - something to tell people about though).
Actually "swimming" is stretching it a
bit as it's more like paddling in mixed hot and cold
water up to about waist depth. You could go deep enough
to swim if you wanted but then the water temperature
is about freezing point (sea-water freezes at -2C so
stays liquid when colder than fresh water). Swimming
in such frigid water is possible for a short time, but
not anything I'd describe as enjoyable.
A Must Visit Place.
The South Shetland Islands are "proper" Antarctica,
and have a wide variety of Antarctic sights and experiences
in good measure.
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