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Heard Island and McDonald Islands

Heard Island and the McDonald Islands are uninhabited, barren, antarctic islands transferred from the United Kingdom to Australia in 1947. Heard Island is bleak and mountainous, with a quiescent volcano (Big Ben, 2745 meters); the McDonald Islands are small and rocky. The islands are located in the Indian Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Madagascar to Antarctica, at 53°6'S, 72°31'E. They total 412 square kilometers. They have no ports or harbors, only offshore anchorages.

Heard Island did not have visitors until 1833. It is probable that no human had ever seen the Island until this time. Peter Kemp, a British sealer, was the first person thought to have seen the island on the 27th of November 1833 from the brig Magnet during a voyage from Kerguelen to the Antarctic, and was believed to have entered the island in his 1833 chart.

Captain John Heard, an American sealer on the ship Oriental sighted the island on 25th November 1853 en route from Boston to Melbourne, officially reported the discovery on December 24th December and had the island named after him. Coincidentally, Captain William McDonald aboard the Samarang discovered the McDonald Islands close to Heard Island shortly afterwards on January 4th 1854.

No landing was made on the islands until sealers from the Corinthian led by Captain Erasmus Darwin Rogers in March 1855 went ashore. In the sealing period from 1855-1880, a number of American Sealers spent a year or more on the island, living in appalling conditions in dark smelly huts. By 1880, most of the seal population had been wiped out and the sealers left the island. In all, more than 100,000 barrels of Elephant Seal Oil was produced during this period.

The islands are a territory of Australia administered from Canberra by the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories. Defense is the responsibility of Australia. They are populated by large numbers of seal and bird species. The islands have been designated a nature preserve and are primarily used for research stations. There is no economic activity, but they have been assigned the country code (top-level Internet domain) HM.

Article history

Some or all of the data in this article is taken from the CIA World Factbook