Whalers Bay, HSM no. 71
Base B, Whaler’s Bay, Deception Island

The base at Whalers Bay was established as part of Operation Tabarin during the Second World War. Whalers Bay (62°57'S, 60°38'W) is a sheltered harbour in Deception Island located immediately to the northeast after passing through the narrow opening known as Neptune’s Bellows. The island has a distinctive horseshoe shape, which was created by the sunken caldera of an active volcano. 

Early 1820s - 1931

Deception Island has a long human history. The harbour was first used by British and American sealers who used Deception as a hunting base for fur seals. Over the years the populations of fur seals were disseminated in the South Shetlands and the sealers moved to new areas. They were then replaced by the whalers who began arriving in the early 1900s. Similarly to the sealers, they used the bay as safe place to process the whales. By 1912, the Norwegian Hektor Whaling Company established a permanent land station in order to process all parts of the whale carcasses more efficiently. The whaling station shut and was abandoned in 1931.

1944: Operation Tabarin

Operation Tabarin established its Base B at Whalers Bay in 1944. On arrival they discovered that the old Magistrate’s house and two of the whalers’ dormitories were fit to live in and they re-named the main building Biscoe House. Base B operated as a research station primarily focusing on the study of meteorology and geology. It also acted as the centre for the Falkland Islands Dependencies Aerial Survey Expedition (FIDASE) from 1955-57. It was abandoned after it was destroyed by ash flows during the volcanic eruption at Deception Island in 1967. It is now an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) managed by several nations.

HSM 71

The buildings, structures and other artefacts on the shore of Whalers Bay, which date from the period 1906-31 represent the most significant whaling remains in the Antarctic. Other buildings, structures and artefacts of the British Base B represent an important aspect of the scientific history of the area 1944-69. The site is designated HSM 71.

1955: Antarctic Peninsula Aerial Survey

In 1955 Hunting Aerosurveys was contracted to undertake a major aerial survey of the Antarctic Peninsula using two Canso amphibious aircraft and two helicopters. Long range flying missions were supported by the supply ship, Oluf Sven. They built the Hunting Lodge, now known as the FIDASE hut after the Falkland Islands and Dependencies Aerial Survey Expedition.

1967: Volcanic Eruption

In December 1960 with the building of an aircraft hangar, Deception Island became the centre of British Antarctic flight operations. The original Wilkins runway was improved and used for many years by single engine Otters. Deception Island continued as a safe haven for ships, stations and aircraft movements until December 1967 when, following two months of tremors, there was an eruption on the northwest of the volcanic island which dropped ash in the vicinity of the Chilean base at Pendulum Cove. During a lull in the eruptions, the Chileans evacuated their base and made a dash for Whalers Bay.

But no ship dared enter into Port Foster to rescue them. Small helicopters with brave pilots evacuated the 27 Chileans and eight British. Being able to carry only two at a time they transported them onto the Chilean vessel Piloto Pardo.

1969: Second Larger Volcanic Eruption

Base ‘B’ was re-occupied in the following summer but only briefly as a second larger eruption damaged most of the buildings at Whalers Bay and the remainder of the Chilean base. Once again, Piloto Pardo came to the rescue. Whalers Bay has not been reoccupied since. Today no-one stays at Deception during the winter and only Spain and Argentina have active summer stations on the island.

Deception Island’s Legacy

Deception Island’s varied human history has been partially masked by nature but remains preserved in places. The Norwegian Hektor whaling station is the most obvious example, but some of the old British buildings can still be seen. The roller for compacting Wilkins’ runway remains near the aircraft hangar. The buildings, structures and other artefacts on the shore of Whalers Bay, which date from the period 1906-31 represent the most significant whaling remains in Antarctica. The heritage in Whalers Bay is monitored in accordance with a management plan approved by the Antarctic Treaty system. 

Read more information about Whaler's Bay on the British Antarctic Survey Archives website

Subscribe to our newsletter

Submit

Press Enquiries

We are very keen to promote the important heritage work that we do, telling the story of life in Antarctica both past and present. If you are interested in running a story about us, using our images or films or want to discuss an interview or potential collaboration opportunity we would love to hear from you.  Please contact either Sarah or Lewis at Limewash to discuss your requirements sarah@limewash.co.uk or +44 (0)1223 813 557.