Husvik – An Abandoned Whaling Station In The South Atlantic

Husvik

Husvik is located in South Georgia, an island in the South Atlantic that is part of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It served as a whaling station and is north of another abandoned settlement, Grytviken. It shares Stromness Bay with two other stations, Stromness and Leith Harbour.

South Georgia was discovered in 1675 by a London merchant, Anthony De La Roché and was first known as Roche Island on early maps. The island was next sighted by the commercial Spanish ship León in June 1756 but it was not until 1775 that James Cook made the first landing on the island. He called it The Isle Of Georgia after King George III and claimed the territory for the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Captain James Cook

James Cook landed on South Georgia during his second voyage of 1772–1775.

Commercial sealing began in 1786 when English and American sealers inhabited the island for prolonged periods. Some even stayed over the inhospitable Winter. English sealers brought back 40,000 seal skins and 2,800 tons of elephant seal oil from South Georgia in 1778 alone. By 1791, 102 vessels were hunting seals in the South Atlantic and the fur seal population was almost completely obliterated. Sealing was outlawed on the islands in 1964.

South Georgia has long been associated with exploration given its proximity to Antarctica. The famous Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is buried on the island. In 1916, he crossed the Scotia Sea in a small boat to reach South Georgia where he organised the rescue of his expedition stranded on Elephant Island off the coast of Antarctica following the loss of their ship Endurance. He died in 1922.

Ernest Shackleton

The famed explorer Ernest Shackleton is buried on South Georgia.

Whaling began on the island in the early 20th century and bases were operated under a lease from the Governor of the Falkland Islands, of which they were a dependency. There were 7 whaling stations in total, all located along the northern coastline of which, Husvik was the second to open. The whaling companies which operated on the island were British, Chilean, Argentinian, South African and Norwegian. The Norwegians, in particular, expanded their whaling capacity greatly following their it independence from Sweden in 1905.

Husvik was originally built as an offshore floating factory in 1907 and became a permanent structure on the banks of Stromness Bay in 1910. It remained in operation, supporting whaling operations in the Southern Ocean until 1930 and then again from 1945 to 1960. It was linked to the other stations by a dirt track and social events took place in Leith Harbour however all three stations became abandoned over time. Reindeer were introduced in 1925.

Husvik in South Georgia

Husvik as it was in 1927.

In 1960, manufacturing in Husvik ended and moved to Grytviken and the buildings later came to be used by the British Antarctic Survey. Apart from brief visits by research teams, it has largely remained abandoned. The island was invaded by Argentina during the Falklands War of 1982 but returned to British ownership soon after. The population of the entire South Georgia & The Sandwich Islands is 30, mainly individuals involved in the British Antarctic Survey. There are also staff members of the South Georgia Museum who are resident on the island on short-term rotations to service visiting Antarctic cruise ships.

South Georgia Museum

The South Georgia Museum is located in Grytviken and mainly welcomes Antarctic cruise ship visitors.

The governor of the island has ruled Husvik closed to public access due to dangerous buildings and possible asbestos contamination. There is a 200m prohibited area maintained around certain areas. Some of the buildings were restored by Norwegian craftsmen in 2006 however they still lie within the prohibited zone.

The abandoned Husvik whaling station in South Georgia

An abandoned ship remains on land at the abandoned Husvik whaling station.

The abandoned settlement of Husvik in South Georgia

An abandoned building in Husvik. It is now prohibited to venture within 200 metres of the buildings.

There are no plans to demolish the buildings and no plans to allow tourists within the 200m zone. The buildings of Husvik will likely remain as they are until nature reclaims them.

Location: Stromness Bay, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

Abandoned: 1960

 

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