Elephant Island is part of the Scotia metamorphic complex, which was created by Cretaceous sea floor sediments being scraped off and metamorphosed at the Scotia subduction zone. The resulting rocks are phyllites, blueschists and greenschists typical of an accretionary wedge, with increased metamorphism from northeast to southwest. These rocks are at the surface here because of uplift along the Shackleton Fault Zone where it meets the South Scotia Ridge. This complex is very similar in age and rock types to those of coastal California, including Catalina Island and the Big Sur coast.
Flora and fauna
The island supports no significant flora or native fauna, although migratory gentoo penguins and seals may be found, and chinstrap penguins nest in season. A lack of safe anchorage has prevented any permanent human settlement, despite the island being well placed to support scientific, fishing and whaling activities. Due to slow recoveries and illegal whaling by the Soviet Union with support from Japan, numbers of southern right whales visiting Elephant island are still at low levels.
First Russian Antarctic expedition
The First Russian Antarctic expedition led by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev on the 985-ton sloop-of-war Vostok and the 530-ton support vessel Mirny discovered Elephant Island on 29 January 1821 and named it Остров Мордвинова in honour of.
The island was the desolate refuge of the British explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew in 1916 following the loss of their ship Endurance in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea. The crew of 28 reached Cape Valentine on Elephant Island after months spent drifting on ice floes and a harrowing crossing of the open ocean in small lifeboats. After camping at Cape Valentine for two nights, Shackleton and his crew moved west to a small, rocky spit at the terminus of a glacier, which offered better protection from rockfalls and from the sea, and which they called Point Wild. Realizing that there was no chance of passive rescue, Shackleton decided to sail to South Georgia, where he knew there were several whaling stations. Shackleton sailed with Tom Crean, Frank Worsley, Harry "Chippy" McNish, Tim McCarthy, and John Vincent on an voyage in the open lifeboat James Caird beginning on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, and arriving at South Georgia 16 days later. His second-in-command, Frank Wild, was left in charge of the remaining party on Elephant Island, waiting for Shackleton's return with a rescue ship. 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. They hunted for penguins and seals, neither of which were plentiful in autumn or winter. Shackleton instructed Wild to depart with the crew for Deception Island if he did not return to rescue them by the beginning of summer, but after four and a half months, on August 30, 1916, the artist George Marston spotted a ship. The ship, with Shackleton on board, was the tug Yelcho, from Punta Arenas, Chile, commanded by Luis Pardo, which rescued all the men who had set out on the original expedition.
Joint Services Expeditions 1970–71
A Joint Services Expedition led by Commander Malcolm Burley was dropped off on Elephant Island by. The party then spent six months carrying out a survey of the island and other scientific research for the British Antarctic Survey and climbing some of the peaks on the island. The expedition visited Point Wild but found no trace of the Endurance expedition; it did, however, find the wreckage of a large sailing vessel, likely the remains of the schooner Charles Shearer from Stonington, New London, Connecticut, under Captain William Henry Appelman. The expedition also landed on and climbed the highest peak on nearby Clarence Island.
contains the Endurance Memorial Site, an Antarctic Historic Site, with a bust of Captain Pardo and several plaques. Hampson Cove on the southwest coast of the island, including the foreshore and intertidal area, contains the wreckage of a large wooden sailing vessel; it has been designated a Historic Site or Monument, following a proposal by the United Kingdom to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.