Spotlight on Deception Island: Ghosts of Adventurers Past

October 30, 2014

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Just off the northwest Antarctic Peninsula in the South Shetland Islands lies Deception Island, once a bustling sealing and whaling station. One of the safest harbours in Antarctica, it's been a place of science and military interests from Britain, Chile, and Argentina, but was deserted when volcanic activity destroyed British Base B in 1969.

Today, Deception Island is a popular Antarctic tourism destination and a scientific outpost for summer research teams from Spain and Argentina. With a history rich in destruction and conflict, the horseshoe-shaped land mass can leave visitors with more than a touch of nostalgia and even the uneasy feeling that the island is true to its name – that everything here is not as it seems.

Deception Island Just Might Be a Paranormal Hotspot

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Many of the ghosts of Deception Island are plain to see – abandoned scientific research stations, airplane hangars, whaling operations and military bases are scattered around the island. Here, the remnants of lives lived out in rough conditions and extreme isolation are evident.

 The paranormal interest in Deception Island is such that SyFy channel's Destination Truth television show team camped out here to perform a supernatural study and night investigation. (Yes, they heard things going bump in the night.)

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Those with a keen interest in history or the paranormal will also want to make their way to Whalers Bay, between Fildes Point and Penfold Point at the east side of Port Foster. The oldest "ghost town" on the island, Whalers Bay is now a designated Historic Site or Monument (HSM) and as such, remains largely the way it was left prior to the 1970s, complete with remnants of generations of Norwegian and Chilean whaling stations, then British science and mapping activities.

Deception Island: Living Population = 0

Currently, Deception Island has a total population of exactly zero … zero living people, that is.

Its only permanent residents are a few dozen men buried in Deception Island Whalers Cemetery. Even it was buried in the volcanic eruption in the late 1960s. This is what it looked like before the island took it back:

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Image credit: Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren, NOAA Corps (retired) [Public domain]

Whaling first arrived on Deception Island in 1906, courtesy of the Norwegian founder of the Chilean Sociedad Ballenera de Magellanes, Adolfus Andresen. Whalers Bay was established as an anchorage for whaling factory ships. In 1912, the Hektor Whaling Company received a license to operate a shore-based whaling station, which grew to employ approximately 150 people.

In 1931, however, whale oil prices collapsed and in April, the station at Whalers Bay was abandoned for good.

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The giant, rusting tanks and boilers remain, alongside those men lost to the whaling industry and lost again to violent geological phenomenon. One would almost think the ghosts of Deception Island are warning new industry away.

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Image credit: Tim Kubichek

Whatever ghosts call Deception Island home, they don't seem to mind when we visit briefly and respectfully, leaving not a trace of ourselves and honoring those fragments of their lives still visible amongst the rotting boats, rusting structure, ice and volcanic rock.

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Image credit: Corina Hitchcock

A visit to Deception Island may leave you melancholy or even spooked, but never bored or unmoved. As we trek the black sand beaches stretching as far as the eye can see or take a polar plunge in the icy waters, you might even find that you've never felt quite so alive as you will on Deception Island.

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