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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. The island is situated 245 kilometres (152 mi) north-northeast of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, 1,253 kilometres (779 mi) westsouthwest of South Georgia, 935 kilometres (581 mi) south of the Falkland Islands, 885 kilometres (550 mi) southeast of Cape Horn and 6,323 kilometres (3,929 mi) distant from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where the nearest elephants are located. 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.

The island is best known for the desolate refuge and eventual rescue of Ernest Shackleton and his crew of 28 in 1916, following the loss of their ship Endurance in Weddell Sea ice. The astonishing story of their determination - where 22 of Shackleton's crew spent four long, dark Antarctic winter months awaiting rescue - and amazing survival makes it a wonderful cruise destination for adventurous travellers.

 If seeing the rugged beauty of Antarctica sounds like a great vacation, then Elephant Island Port is a great place to visit. The landscape prominently features glaciers and cliffs. While the climate is cold and windy, the scenery is very impressive. Elephant Island was discovered in 1916 as part of an expedition led by Ernest Shackleton. They arrived on this island after one of their ships was lost. Most tourists who visit this area arrive as part of a Falklands or South Georgia Island cruise. Cruise passengers at the Elephant Island port of call are rarely taken ashore. If you want a closer look at the scenery, most medium-sized and small ships will allow you to get a little closer on a zodiac boat. Larger ships generally just pass by. Elephant Island doesn't have human settlements, so there are no stores or shopping centers.

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 Cape Valentine on Elephant Island after a harrowing ordeal on drifting ice floes. The first of Shackleton's crew to set foot here, and presumably the first person ever to make landfall, was Perce Blackboro, originally a stowaway on the Endurance but then a member of the crew. Suffering from frostbite and gangrene in his feet, Shackleton commanded that he make the first landfall on Elephant Island. After camping at Cape Valentine for two nights, Shackleton and his crew moved 7 miles westwards to a location which offered better protection from rockfalls and from the sea, and which they called Point Wild.
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. 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:
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".
Things to See
Antarctic cruises offer a very different experience, and a cruise to Elephant Island is no exception. These cruises are more ideal for those who prefer encounters with nature over numerous shopping, dining, and excursion options. You're sure to be impressed with both the scenery and wildlife.
The main thing to do when visiting Elephant Island is to take pictures. On some cruises, passengers can be taken on short rides in zodiac boats to get a closer look at the scenery and hopefully, some wildlife. This is often dependent on the weather, which can be somewhat unpredictable. The island itself is not very hospitable to humans, so being able to land right on the island shouldn't be expected. Icebergs, many of them quite large, float around in the sea. Some have been known to reach 100 feet in length! The island has some rugged, rocky cliffs and a mountain range that remains covered with snow all year. Glaciers here are most impressive, and the Endurance Glacier is said to be the largest.
The island's harsh environment makes it ideal for three animal species seldom seen elsewhere. These are the elephant seal, which is the island's namesake, the Gentoo penguin, and the chinstrap penguin. It's not uncommon to see numerous animals of both kinds on the island's shores at any time. The penguins are even known to sun themselves on top of the icebergs. The peak times for seeing cute, fluffy penguin chicks are from early December to mid-January. This is summer in the Antarctic. Other bird species and whales might also be spotted.
Be sure to bring good boots, a parka, and wear warm clothing when venturing out by boat, as temperatures are very cold even in the summer. Also, be sure to have a waterproof cover and bag for any camera equipment. This is definitely an activity for those with strong cold tolerance.

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