The wreck of the Endurance, which carried famed Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton to the edge of the continent in 1915 before being crushed by ice and sunk, has been discovered almost 10,000 feet below the surface of the Weddell Sea.
A search expedition, mounted by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and dubbed Endurance22, announced the discovery in a press release on March 8.
It was found just four miles south of the last position recorded in 1915 by Frank Worsley, who captained the ship.
The team of Endurance22 set sail aboard the Agulhas II, a South African icebreaker, in early February. Using a suite of autonomous under vehicles, the team were able to look for unusual features on the seafloor. Eventually, they located the ship, sending down high-resolution cameras to capture the find.
Images of the wreck show that it’s in remarkable condition, colonized by all manner of marine life but not in a severe state of decay. The icy conditions in the Weddell Sea have largely prevented build up of any organisms that might destroy the wood.
“This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen,” said Mensun Bound, director of exploration on Endurance22. “It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation.”
Under the Antarctic Treaty, the wreck of the Endurance is protected as a Historic Site and Monument and is not able to be touched or disturbed.
One of the reasons the ship has taken so long to find is because the Weddell Sea is covered in thick ice — the same ice that sunk Endurance. Even with modern polar icebreakers, it’s difficult to get into the region where Endurance went under. However, this year has seen record low sea ice coverage in the Antarctic. The Weddell Sea was still frozen over but these conditions were particularly favourable for the Agulhas II.
The ship’s demise led to one of Antarctica’s most celebrated survival stories. Endurance became trapped in ice in February 1915 and held on through the winter months, until she was finally consumed by the ice on Nov. 21. At that point, Shackleton and his crew of 27 men were stranded on the drifting sea ice, establishing makeshift camps as the ice beneath their feet sometimes cracked apart and threatened to drown them.
The crew were eventually able to make it to Elephant Island, off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, before Shackleton and a crew of five set off for the island of South Georgia. They completed the 800 mile journey and were able to get help for the stranded men from a whaling station on the island. The tale is famous for Shackleton’s leadership and the fact there was no loss of life — just the loss of one mighty ship.
Now, she is found.