The South Shetland Islands is a 540 kilometre (335 miles) long chain of islands that is located about 800 kilometres (500 miles) from Tierra del Fuego and about 120 kilometres (75 miles) from the Antarctic Peninsula. The archipelago consists of 11 major islands and numerous smaller ones. They are mainly mountainous and more than 80% glaciated. The islands are of volcanic origin.
Although the islands might have been sighted before, the first recorded sighting is that of William Smith, a British sailor whose ship was blown off course while rounding Cape Horn in 1819. Soon after, seal hunters frequented the islands in search of Fur Seals. The Fur Seals were almost completely wiped out only a couple of years later. Nowadays the seals are totally protected, but today few Fur Seals are found breeding around the South Shetland Islands.
The South Shetland Islands are located at Latitude 62º South, which is still north of the Antarctic Circle. In fact they are almost at the same latitude as their northern counterparts, the Shetland and Orkney Islands of northern Scotland. The climate around the South Shetland Island is quite different though. Their location within the Antarctic Convergence and the proximity to the Antarctic Continent means that they have a much colder climate. Still, the islands are sometimes called "the Banana Belt" for their fairly mild climate in comparison with Antarctica proper. The average summer temperatures are about 1.5°C (35ºF). Snow, sleet and rain can be expected in summer.
Flora & Fauna.
Several of the islands are home to seabirds such as petrels, skuas and penguins. Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adélie and even a couple of Macaroni Penguins breed on the islands. The marine mammals consist of species such as Crabeater Seal, Leopard Seal, Weddell Seal, Fin Whale, Humpback Whale, and the Southern Right Whale, a rich species list as the Southern Ocean contains the greatest quantity of animal protein on Earth and so is ideal for sea mammals.
Frequently visited places:
Barrientos Island at the Aitcho Islands. The 1,5 kilometres (1 mile) long island is dominated by steep cliffs on which Giant Petrels breed. Several of the beaches are taken by Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins and a gentle walk brings you to an Elephant Seal wallow.
Deception Island, a unique island in the world. The ring-shaped island is in fact the top of a volcano, a caldera. On one side there is a narrow entrance through which ships can enter the crater. Below some of the beaches the seawater is heated geothermal by the still active volcano. In Whalers Bay the remains of an early 20th century whaling station can be seen.
Hannah Point on Livingstone Island, a small but fantastic Antarctic zoo with high concentrations of penguins, petrels and seals. It is one of the few places where (a couple of) Macaroni Penguins breed in Antarctica. Access to Hannah is restricted for environmental reasons.
Half Moon Island. The crescent shaped island lies close to Livingstone Island and is home to a colony of Chinstrap Penguins and Blue-eyed Shags. On the island a small Argentine station, Teniente Cámara, can be seen.