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 eruptions destroyed British Base B in 1969.
Deception Island Today
Today, Deception Island is still an active volcano considered to pose "significant volcanic risk," and is constantly monitored for seismic activity. The island can be accessed through a narrow entrance on the south east side between cliffs known as Neptune's Bellows.
It is a popular Antarctic region tourism destination and a scientific outpost for summer research teams from Spain and Argentina.
The history of Deception Island is rich in destruction and conflict. The roughly circular horseshoe-shaped land mass near the Antarctic Peninsula 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 History: a Paranormal Hotspot
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.)
Those with a keen interest in history or the paranormal have in the past made their way to Whalers Bay, between Fildes Point and Penfold Point at the east side of Port Foster, the large bay formed by the volcano's flooded caldera.
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 Antarctic survey and mapping activities.
Deception Island: Living Population = 0
Though you will find thousands of chinstrap penguins, seals, whales, and other birds on the island in the spring and summer season, 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:
History of Deception Island Human Activity
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.
Here they processed whale blubber into whale oil. In 1931, however, whale oil prices collapsed and in April, the station at Whalers Bay was abandoned for good.
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.
The remains of Hektor whaling station are protected as an Antarctic Treaty Historic Site and Monument.
Visiting Antarctica, Deception Island, and the South Shetland Archipelago
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.
A visit to Deception Island may leave you melancholy or even spooked, but never bored or unmoved.
As we trek the glacial ice and black sand beaches stretching as far as the eye can see, photograph the breathtaking landscapes and local wildlife, or take a polar plunge in the icy Antarctic waters, you might even find that you've never felt quite so alive as you will on Deception Island.