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Named for the many families of elephant seals that swim the waters of the Weddell Sea and Bransfield Strait, Elephant Island is a haven for nature and wildlife lovers. Soak up unique vistas of ice-capped mountains and sprawling glaciers. Break out your binoculars and spot colonies of penguins, and keep your eyes peeled for the island’s namesake seals during your Antarctica cruise.
You won’t find the seals on Elephant Island living in practically any other place on Earth. They’re known for their trunk-style noses that resemble—you guessed it—an elephant’s trunk. These creatures are massive; adult male elephant seals can weigh upwards of 8,000 pounds fully grown. Keep a look out for fur seals and their tiny pups, which are the smallest species of seal. Dwarfed by the elephant seals, fur seals rely on their furry coats to stay warm.
Multiple varieties of penguin species migrate to or live on Elephant Island, including the chinstrap penguin and the gentoo penguin. Gentoo penguins are recognizable by their waddling tails, while chinstrap penguins can be identified by the black strip under their heads, which almost looks like the strap of a helmet.
The storied past of Elephant Island recounts tales of bravery and resilience in the face of harsh conditions. Elephant Island was first discovered by a British explorer in 1820 and mapped by Russian explorers by 1821. In 1914, the Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 28 other sailors were trapped in ice and forced to abandon their ship. They made their way to Elephant Island, where they stayed for months until it was warm enough to melt the ice. Miraculously, Shackleton and the entire crew survived. Today, a handful of researchers and naturalists still brave the elements to live and study on the island, but it’s largely inhabited by the seals and penguins.
This tiny island in the Weddell Sea of Antarctica plays a role in one of seafaring history's most legendary exploits. When the brave crew of the Endurance, led by intrepid explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, was trapped in the ice during a 1914 polar expedition, they took refuge on this island until help arrived. And, even though they spent the entire winter waiting for rescue, not a single crew member was lost.
Located in the Southern Ocean near the outer reaches of the South Shetland Islands, Elephant Island has claims from not only Argentina and Chile, but also the United Kingdom. Brazil also has two shelters here that contain up to six researchers that work during the summer months.
Check out the island's wildlife on your Antarctica cruise. The island is covered with elephant seals, hence the name Elephant Island. At Cape Lookout, a bluff on the southern coast where various penguins (chinstrap, gentoo, and macaroni) call home. Other birds of note include sheathbills, cape petrels, and stormy petrels; it's also a great place to spot the elephant seals and Antarctic fur seals. The truly adventurous can explore the moss colonies, which are thought to be thousands of years old. The moss bank is not terribly far from where the Shackleton party was marooned, and is considered one of the oldest living things in the world. Your cruise to Antarctica will truly be an experience of a lifetime.