Upon our departure from Ushuaia, Argentina, at the tip of the South American continent, we were cheered by the announcement from our ship’s captain that the weather looked good for our two-day passage cruising through the notorious Drake Passage to reach the South Shetland Islands at the northern extent of Antarctica. As ships approach and cross the Antarctic Convergence (where the Pacific Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean) in the Drake Passage, they usually encounter stormy weather and waves of 18 to 30 feet (approximately 6 to 10 meters). We could not believe our good luck – waves of 1 to 2 feet (under one meter) in calm seas!
But the weather changed for our Zodiac inflatable boat ride to go ashore at our first destination, Deception Island, one of the South Shetland Islands. Situated on the edge of the Drake Passage, the South Shetland archipelago offers ships sailing south from Argentina the first sight of land after the crossing
A recently active volcano, Deception Island is one of the most famous islands of the South Shetlands archipelago. Discovered by sealers in the 1820s, the island’s name refers to its deceiving donut-like shape. The “donut” has a very small bite taken out of it, which forms a narrow entrance into the flooded caldera of the original volcano, known as Neptune’s Bellows. Once the ship safely sailed into the caldera, we were able to go ashore in Zodiacs to the abandoned Norwegian whaling station from the early 1900s.
“After being a base for seal hunting, the second phase of human activity at Deception began in the early twentieth century. In 1904, an active whaling industry was established at South Georgia, taking advantage of new technology and an almost untouched population of whales to make rapid profits. It spread south into the South Shetland Islands, where the lack of shore-based infrastructure meant that the whales had to be towed to moored factory ships for processing; these needed a sheltered anchorage and a plentiful supply of fresh water, both of which could be found at Deception. In 1906, the Norwegian-Chilean whaling company Sociedad Ballenera de Magallanes started using Whalers Bay as a base for a single ship, the Gobernador Bories.” — Wikipedia
“Other whalers followed, with several hundred men resident at Deception during the Antarctic summers and as many as thirteen ships operating in peak years. In 1908, the British government formally declared the island to be part of the Falkland Islands Dependencies and thus under British control, establishing postal services as well as appointing a magistrate and customs officer for the island. The magistrate would ensure that whaling companies were paying appropriate license fees to the Falklands government as well as ensuring that catch quotas were adhered to. A cemetery was built in 1908, a radio station in 1912, a hand operated railway also in 1912, and a small permanent magistrate’s house in 1914. The cemetery, by far the largest in Antarctica, held graves for 35 men along with a memorial to 10 more presumed drowned. These were not the only constructions; as the factory ships of the period were only able to strip the blubber from whales and could not use the carcasses, a permanent on-shore station was established by the Norwegian company Hvalfangerselskabet Hektor A/S in 1912 – it was estimated that up to 40% of the available oil was being wasted by the ship-based system. This was the only successful shore-based industry ever to operate in Antarctica, reaping high profits in its first years.” — Wikipedia
“The development of pelagic whaling in the 1920s, where factory ships fitted with a slipway could tow aboard entire whales for processing, meant that whaling companies were no longer tied to sheltered anchorages. A boom in pelagic Antarctic whaling followed, with companies now free to ignore quotas and escape the costs of licenses. This rapidly lead to overproduction of oil and a collapse in the market, and the less profitable and more heavily regulated shore-based companies had trouble competing. In early 1931, the Hektor factory finally ceased operation, ending commercial whaling at the island entirely.” — Wikipedia