Seals, secrecy and abandoned pots

The Antarctic territories were originally consider so barren and desolate that explorers rarely ventured far enough south to even encounter land. But the first natural resources – seals and whales – transformed the discovery and exploitation of the region. From the late eighteenth century onwards, the Falklands, South Georgia and other, even farther flung, islands became home to hardened crews of whalers and sealers and their bloody processing grounds. It was a lucrative but secretive trade. According to Robert Headland, archivist and curator at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, ‘… Masters of sealing ships maintained much secrecy about any discoveries of new places with large populations of seals. This, they hoped, would enable them to return to exploit the seals in subsequent seasons without competition. A sealer’s success or failure depended largely upon whether he was first in the field.’ (from The Island of South Georgia). Post originally inspired by Lonely Planet’s Antarctic guide. There’s more information on far-flung whaling stations at Railways of the Far South. Settlements like Grytviken (“The Pot Cove”) on South Georgia are named for the remnants of the whaling trade. Grytviken is also the resting place of Ernest Shackleton. Mystic Places has some images of the abandoned blubber boilers on Deception Island, ‘one of the only places in the world where vessels can sail directly into the centre of a restless volcano‘ / sort of related, but at the other end of the planet: Chasing Ice, a documentary about climate change.

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