A Village at the end of the World


Grytviken – Copyright Hinayana

Grytviken is located on the island of South Georgia, Antarctica. Its name means “the Pot Bay”, named by a Swedish topographer who in 1902 found there a large pot to extract oil from the seals (in 1770 British, Americans and Russians started to exploit the seal hunt in the island). It is the best port in South Georgia, chosen by the Norwegian captain Carl Anton Larsen in 1904 as the site for the first whaling station in the area. The whale hunting in Grytviken ended in 1965, and a few years later, in 1971, the site was abandoned.

Whaling station in Grytviken – CC Andy Pattison


Grytviken – Copyright Hinayana

Seals in Grytviken

Seals in Grytviken – CC Rita Willaert

Today Grytviken is in ruins. Empty houses, shops, administrative buildings, a church, a foundry, a small hydroelectric plant, even ships used by the whalers are abandoned in the shore. All that remains in the village lies at the mercy of the tides and the wind, with the impressive snowy mountains as a witness. The enormous size of the whale processing plant can give us an idea of the slaughter that took place there. According to old stories, especially during 1910-1930 the waters of King Edward Cove turned into red with the blood of the magnificent mammals. It was the booming industry. Later, gradually, the whales disappeared. Until 1965, when there was nothing to hunt.

Whaling ship

Whaling ship – Copyright Hinayana

Whaling ship

Whaling ship – CC Rita Willaert

Although there were groups protesting against the killing of whales since the early twentieth century was not until 1946, with the creation of the International Whaling Convention, when it began to address the problem of over-explotation of these animals. But conservation measures were late: the population of whales in Antarctica is still low, especially in regard to the blue whale and the fin whale.

Oil reservoirs en Grytviken

Oil reservoirs en Grytviken – CC Ville Miettinen

Grytviken Population

Life was hard for the whalers. A saying that could be heard in the early years was: “beyond 40º no law; beyond 50º no God”. To try to remedy the situation somewhat, Captain Larsen personally financed a church. The Grytviken church was the first in Antarctica. Originally the building was in Strømmen, Norway. It was dismantled and taken to Grytviken to be rebuilt at the end of 1913. The works finished in time for the church was opened and consecrated  on Christmas Day. The clergyman of the church described the congregation that Christmas as “young men in the prime of his life, tanned and strong, showing the marks of hard work” and lamented that “Christian life was not much among the whalers”. Due to the loneliness in which they lived, many of the workers returned to their homes mentally deranged.1

Church in Grytviken

Church in Grytviken – Copyright Hinayana

Anecdotally: Grytviken was the last stop of Shackleton before entering into the Weddell Sea. He arrived to the island on November 5, 1914, and met with warnings of caution from the whalers who worked on the island. They told him it was a bad year for ice, and recommended him to delay his departure till ice sheets decreased.  Shackleton spent a month in Grytviken, but finally the Endurance departed on  5 December, 1914. The warnings of the whalers were verified too son. The Endurance became trapped in the ice for 10 months before sinking in the frozen waters of  Antarctica.

Residents of Grytviken

Residents of Grytviken – CC Rita Willaert

1- The Crystal Desert: Summerns in Antarctica, by David G. Campbell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002 – page 227.

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