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Elephant Island (South Shetland Islands)

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Title: Elephant Island (South Shetland Islands)  
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Subject: South Shetland Islands, List of Antarctic and subantarctic islands, Cape Yelcho, List of islands by name (E), List of islands of the United Kingdom
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Elephant Island (South Shetland Islands)

Not to be confused with Elephanta Island or Elephantine Island.
Map of Elephant Island, Antarctica
Location Antarctica

61°08′S 55°07′W / 61.133°S 55.117°W / -61.133; -55.117Coordinates: 61°08′S 55°07′W / 61.133°S 55.117°W / -61.133; -55.117

Archipelago South Shetland Islands
Area 558 km2 (215.4 sq mi)
Length 47 km (29.2 mi)
Width 27 km (16.8 mi)
Highest elevation 853 m (2,799 ft)
Highest point Pardo Ridge
Population (as of 2010)
Additional information
Administered under the Antarctic Treaty

Elephant Island is an ice-covered mountainous island off the coast of Antarctica in the outer reaches of the South Shetland Islands, in the Southern Ocean. Its name was given by early explorers sighting elephant seals on its shores. It is 1,253 kilometres (779 mi) westsouthwest of South Georgia, 935 kilometres (581 mi) south of the Falkland Islands, and 885 kilometres (550 mi) southeast of Cape Horn. It is within the Antarctic claims of Argentina, Chile and the UK. Brazil has two refuges on the island, Goeldi and Wiltgen, supporting the work of up to six researchers each during the summer.[1]


The island is oriented approximately east-west, with a maximum elevation of 2,799 ft (853 m) at Pardo Ridge. Significant named features are Cape Yelcho, Cape Valentine and Cape Lookout at the northeastern and southern extremes, and Point Wild, a spit on the north coast. The Endurance Glacier is the main discharge glacier.

The island supports no significant flora or native fauna although migratory Gentoo penguins and seals may be found, and Chinstrap penguins nest in season. A lack of safe anchorage has prevented any permanent human settlement, despite the island being well placed to support scientific, fishing and whaling activities.

Elephant Island's name can be attributed to both its elephant head-like appearance and the sighting of elephant seals by Captain George Powell in 1821, one of the earliest sightings. The weather is normally foggy with much snow, and winds can reach 100 miles per hour (160 km/h).

Endurance expedition

The island is most famous as the desolate refuge of Ernest Shackleton and his crew in 1916. Following the loss of their ship Endurance in Weddell Sea ice, the 28 exhausted men reached Elephant Island after a harrowing ordeal on drifting ice floes. They established a camp at a place they called Point Wild where they were able to regain some strength.

Realizing that there was no chance of rescue, Shackleton decided to sail to South Georgia where he knew there was a whaling station. In one of the most incredible feats in the history of sailing and navigation, Shackleton sailed with five other men on an 800-mile (1,287 km) voyage in the open lifeboat James Caird on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, arriving at South Georgia almost two weeks later. His second-in-command, Frank Wild, was left in charge of the men on Elephant Island, waiting for Shackleton's return with a rescue ship.[2] In his memoir Wild recalled “We gave them three hearty cheers and watched the boat getting smaller and smaller in the distance. Then seeing some of the party in tears, I immediately set them all to work.”

There was much work for the stranded men. Because the island had no natural source of shelter, they constructed a shack and wind blocks from their remaining two lifeboats and pieces of canvas tents. Blubber lamps were used for lighting. Expedition physicist Reginald James composed the following verses out of gratitude for Wild's leadership:[3][4]

My name is Frankie Wild-o.
Me hut's on Elephant Isle.
The wall's without a single brick
And the roof's without a tile.
Nevertheless I must confess,
By many and many a mile,
It's the most palatial dwelling place
You'll find on Elephant Isle.

They hunted for penguins and seals, neither of which were plentiful in autumn or winter. Many of the crew were already ill and frostbitten, and they were now also in danger of starvation. After four and a half months, one of the men spotted a ship on August 30, 1916. The ship, led by Shackleton, was the borrowed tug Yelcho, from Punta Arenas, Chile, commanded by Luis Pardo, which rescued all the men who had set out on the original expedition. It was the fourth attempt to rescue the men. The first three attempts were turned back due to a heavy ice pack surrounding the island.

According to Frank Worsley, Shackleton's captain, the men pronounced the island's name with an 'H' prefixed and a silent 't', "Hell-of-an-Island".[5]

Point Wild now contains the Endurance Memorial Site, an Antarctic Historic Site (HSM-53), with a bust of Captain Pardo and a number of plaques. An unrelated shipwreck on the south-western side of the island is also registered, as HSM-74.

Elephant Island
Elephant Island

See also



  • Antarctica Sydney: Reader's Digest, 1985.
  • Child, Jack Antarctica and South American Geopolitics: Frozen Lebensraum New York: Praeger Publishers, 1988.
  • Furse, Chris Elephant Island - An Antarctic Expedition Shrewsbury: Anthony Nelson Ltd, 7 St John's Hill, Shrewsbury SY1 1JE, England, ISBN 0-904614-02-6.
  • Mericq, Luis Antarctica: Chile's Claim. Washington: National Defense University, 1987.
  • Pinochet de la Barra, Oscar La Antarctica Chilena Santiago: Editorial Andrés Bello, 1976.
  • Stewart, Andrew Antarctica: An Encyclopedia London: McFarland and Co., 1990 (2 volumes).
  • Worsley, Frank Shackleton's Boat Journey W.W. Norton & Co., 1933.

External links

Template:Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition

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