Three Strange Events in the History of Antarctica

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A Brief History

On this April Fool’s Day, we not only wish you a happy April 1st, but to dispel some historical and current event misconceptions, we also want to share with you three strange events that actually happened in the history of the southernmost continent, Antarctica.  Again, we want to be explicitly clear that what follows are NOT jokes.  These events actually happened!

Digging Deeper

1. The Nazis Attempted to Create a Colony There

Territory comprising New Swabia marked in red.  Map by Thomas Blomberg.  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Yes, those guys!  The Third Reich, enemies of Indiana Jones and Captain America… In 1939, Germany sent an expedition to explore a chunk of Antarctica already claimed by Norway called Queen Maud Land.  This area sits between territory claimed by Britain and territory claimed by Australia.  Calling their new “colony” New Swabia, the ship the expedition sailed on was fittingly named Schwabenland.  During the time immediately prior to the outbreak of World War II, in 1938, Germany commissioned an expedition to Antarctica for the purpose of scouting out a whaling station there.  Whale oil at the time was still an essential raw material for precision machined equipment.

2. At Least Two Attempts have been Made to Create Micronations There

Location of Westarctica.  Map by User:Micromaster.  This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Micromaster at English Wikipedia

In 2001, a man named Travis McHenry tried to establish a tiny nation on Antarctica he called the Protectorate of Westarctica.  If that is not impressive sounding enough, the place was previously called the Grand Duchy of Westarctica.  McHenry, an American by birth, plopped his claim between Antarctic territory of Chile and New Zealand.  With a land area of 620,000 square miles, Westarctica boasts a population of about 2000 citizens, though none actually live in the “country.”  Giving the place an air of authenticity, consulates have been established in several other countries!  Apparently a magnanimous place, Westarctica granted independence to an even newer micronation from of chunk of Westarctican territory called Maeland in 2020.  Not to be outdone, a Belgian, Niels Vermeersch, established his own micronation in Antarctica in 2008, a land he calls the Grand Duchy of Flandrensis.  Unfortunately, this newest micronation does not enjoy the recognition by any other established nation.

3. The COVID-19 Pandemic has Spread There

Territorial claims with confirmed cases (red) as of 31 December 2020.  Map by TUBS.  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Nowhere is safe!  COVID-19 will find you even if you flee to Antarctica.  Since December of 2020, 58 cases have been reported from the land down under everything else.  Fortunately, none of the victims have been reported as dying from the infection.  Scientists and technicians employed at various Antarctic bases have been reduced to minimum staffing levels to combat the spread of COVID-19, making an already difficult job even harder.

If you thought Antarctica was just a giant icebox where nothing exciting happens, at least as long as The Thing does not show up, you can see by these incidents that there is more going on there than just research and giant chunks of ice breaking off.  What will be the next article worthy event from Antarctica?  We wonder…

Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever been to Antarctica?  Also, did anyone pull any pranks on you today?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Lüdecke, Cornelia and Colin Summerhayes.  The Third Reich in Antarctica: The German Antarctic Expedition 1938-39.  The Erskine Press, 2012.

The featured image in this article, the emblem of the Nazi German Antarctic expedition (1938 – 1939), is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

You can also watch a video version of this article on YouTube.


About Author

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history in Ohio.