Sir Ernest Shackleton’s lost Endurance shipwreck has been discovered at the bottom of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. And while this isn’t a discovery from the ancient world, it packs such a historically significant punch that we couldn’t NOT share this story with you.
In 1914-17, Sir Ernest Shackleton launched the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which planned to sail from the Weddell Sea to the South Pole and onwards to the Ross Sea. Now, 107 years after becoming trapped in sea ice and sinking, the ill-fated Endurance has been identified off the coast of Antarctica in Weddell Sea, Southern Ocean.
The large letters at the back of the ship tell us a story of human endurance and how the deep oceans treat giant human-made artifacts. (Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust / National Geographic / Endurance22)
Natural Larvae Barriers Save Shackleton’s Ship From Decay
Following the polar route established by earlier Antarctic expeditions, the Ross Sea party Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition aimed to lay a series of supply depots across the Great Ice Barrier from the Ross Sea to the Beardmore Glacier. Under the command of famous explorer Ernest Shackleton an expedition was tasked with landing near Vahsel Bay on the Weddell Sea, on the opposite coast of Antarctica. They would march via the South Pole to the Ross Sea across the entire ice locked continent.
Endurance was recently identified about four miles south of the last position recorded by the ship’s captain, Frank Worsley. The Endurance22 Expedition set off from Cape Town, South Africa in February this year. This was one month after the 100th anniversary of Sir Ernest’s death on a mission to locate it. The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust announced via the Endurance22 website that Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous wooden ship was discovered at a depth of 9,868 feet (3,008 meters). Marine archaeologists say the Antarctic circumpolar current served as a “barrier to the larvae” that would otherwise have devoured the ship.
The final moments of the Endurance before sinking into the icy seas off Antarctica in November 1915. (Royal Geographic Society / Public domain )
You Can Look, But You Can’t Touch
In 1915, when Sir Ernest Shackleton and his 28 man strong crew embarked on the first crossing of Antarctica, Endurance became trapped in dense pack ice . A report about the discovery in Daily Mail says the crew had no option but to abandon ship, and that she was finally crushed and sank on November 21, 1915.
The expedition’s director of exploration, Mensun Bound, said the discovery of the shipwreck is a “milestone in polar history.” He added that videos of Endurance showed her to be intact, and he said it was the “finest wooden shipwreck” he has ever seen.
According to the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, the wreck has been protected as a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty. This means the Endurance shipwreck can be surveyed and filmed, however, it cannot be touched in any way.
Changing Environments Sometimes Reveal Historic Treasures
Mensun Bound described the wreck as “upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation.” You can even see “Endurance arced [written] across the stern, directly below the taffrail,” the expedition leader added. However, Bound doesn’t take all the credit for the new discovery himself and he points towards the navigational skills of Captain Frank Worsley of the Endurance. And if it were not for the brave Captain’s “invaluable” detailed records, the expedition to locate the wreck wouldn’t have left Cape Town .
The front end of Earnest Shackleton’s famous ship, which he tried to find in 1921 on his last ever expedition as he died in Antarctic waters. ( Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust / National Geographic / Endurance22)
Dr John Shears, the expedition leader, said the team were accompanied by television historian Dan Snow filming polar history, which he describes as “the world’s most challenging shipwreck search.” Dr Shears added that in addition to finding the ship the researchers undertook important scientific research in “a part of the world that directly affects the global climate and environment.”
And if it were not for the changing environment, this discovery might not have been made. According to an article on BBC, this month, climatologists have reported the “lowest extent of Antarctic sea-ice ever recorded during the satellite era [1970s-present].”
Top image: Antarctic explorer Earnest Shackleton’s long lost Endurance shipwreck, which sank in 1915, has finally been found at a depth of 10,000 feet or 350 meters off the coast of the icy continent. Source: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust / National Geographic / Endurance22
By Ashley Cowie