World Travels of John and Donna travel blog

What is Elephant Island?

The island is approximately an east to west orientation, with a maximum elevation of 2795 ft (852 m) above sea level at Pardo Ridge. Significant named features of the island are Cape Yelcho, Cape Valentine and Cape Lookout at its northeastern and southernmost extremes, and Point Wild, a spit of land on its northern coast. The Endurance Glacier is the main discharge glacier on the island.

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

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 of the island. Its weather is normally foggy with much snow. Additionally, winds can reach speeds up to 100 miles per hour on the frigid island. Anyone wishing to visit this remote island must have high cold thresholds and extreme weather tolerance.

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.

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