Antarctica’s best-known site, both for its beauty and adventurous past
Information about Elephant Island
Elephant Island is one of the outermost of the South Shetland Islands. The roots of its name are argued to be one of two reasons. Either the fact that Elephant seals were seen hauled out here in large numbers by the first person to discover and map the island, Captain George Powell in 1821, or that the island’s shape is uncannily like that of a baby elephant’s head with trunk extended!
The island remained unexplored for many years thanks in part to its lack of resources (just small numbers of seals and penguins and no native plants) and partly because of its steep volcanic rocks, presenting few landing points.
However, in 1916 Elephant Island became immortalized as the scene of the beyond-all-odds survival story that was Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition.
After their ship Endurance was lost to the treacherous ice in the Weddell Sea, the 28 crew were forced to make a perilous escape attempt. After months in open boats and stuck on drifting ice sheets, the team arrived at Elephant Island. Here they set up a base to stay at Point Wild while Shackleton and five members of his crew set sail in an open lifeboat for South Georgia - a journey of over 800 miles - to seek a rescue ship.
This stunning tale of endurance, determination, and the human spirit is brought home to visitors to Elephant Island by the Endurance Memorial at Point Wild. You can also see breathtaking views of the Endurance Glacier - named after Shackleton’s lost ship - as well as the stunning rocky terrain and its Chinstrap Penguins and seals.
Interesting facts about Elephant Island
Visit the monument that stands to Shackleton at Point Wild. This marks the spot where the crew survived for four and a half months of vicious Antarctic winter. The backdrop of rocky cliffs and the foreground of the foreboding southern ocean is evocative even during the quieter Antarctic summer season.
You are unlikely to land at the spot, since it is so exposed to the waves, but the expedition team will strive to do a Zodiac cruise a chance to also get close to the Chinstrap Colony (also look out for Gentoo Penguin and Macaroni Penguin). Even if the conditions are not suitable, you can get very close in the ship.
The area can also be good for Humpback Whales, Fin Whale, Leopard Seals, and Black-browed Albatross offshore.
There may also be the chance to cruise around other parts of this rugged island, but there are few places to land, or to do a Zodiac cruise with the swell.