The Endurance is one of the world’s most famous shipwrecks. Although the ship sank off the coast of Antarctica more than 100 years ago, no one has been able to locate the Endurance due to Antarctica’s extreme conditions – until now.
An expedition has now found polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance almost 10,000 feet below the surface of the ice-covered Weddell Sea. Surprisingly, the 144-foot-long wooden ship is well preserved.
“We have made polar history with the discovery of Endurance, and successfully completed the world’s most challenging shipwreck search,” Dr. John Shears, who is expedition leader of Endurance22, wrote on Twitter.
“We are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and captured images of Endurance,” Mensun Bound, director of exploration on the expedition, said in a statement. “This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen. It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation,” Bound wrote. “You can even see ‘Endurance’ arced across the stern, directly below the taffrail. This is a milestone in polar history.”
A Tale Of Sheer Endurance
Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 27 men set out for Antarctica aboard the Endurance in 1914. Their goal was to become the first expedition to cross Antarctica by land, from the Weddell Sea via the South Pole to the Ross Sea.
However, while in the Weddell Sea, the Endurance became trapped in ice. After months, the ice crushed the ship’s hull, causing it to sink and the men to abandon ship, Endurance22 recounts.
Here’s why the expedition became legendary. After months of surviving on ice floes, the men eventually used lifeboats to reach Elephant Island. Shackleton and five crew members then made an 800-mile journey in a rowboat to South Georgia.
Shackleton and two crew members then successfully crossed the island’s mountains. When they reached a whaling station on the coast, Shackleton then launched a rescue mission for the men remaining on Elephant Island.
The rescue team eventually reached Elephant Island, and in August 1916, 2 years after they left London, Shackleton and his entire crew began their journey home. Amazingly, no men perished during the ordeal.
Another Polar Expedition
The Endurance22 expedition knew where – approximately – to look for the Endurance because its captain, Frank Worsley, precisely logged the ship’s position in his diary.
“We pay tribute to the navigational skills of Captain Frank Worsley, whose detailed records were invaluable in our quest to locate the wreck,” Bound said.
The expedition worked off the S.A. Agulhas II, a South African polar research and logistics vessel. Then, based on Captain Worsley’s coordinates, the expedition used drones, submarines, helicopters, and other equipment to locate Endurance.
The ship remains in such well-preserved condition because the near-freezing waters kill many of the wood-eating organisms that are commonly found in warmer waters.
“The preservation is beyond imagination,” Bound told NBC News. “It’s beautiful.”
Bound added that in the 30 years he has spent working on shipwrecks, he has “never, ever seen a wreck as bold and beautiful as this. It just doesn’t get any better.”
A Permanent Resting Place
It should be noted that while the expedition took photos and videos, they did not disturb the Endurance. What’s more, no physical artifacts were brought to the surface because the site of the Endurance is on the list of Historic Sites and Monuments protected under the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed in 1959 by the 12 countries whose scientists had been active in and around Antarctica.
The Endurance22 team has been working on a documentary that will be shown on National Geographic later this year. In the meantime, you can learn more about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition here and see photos from the Endurance22 expedition here.
If you’re interested in shipwrecks, be sure to read New Images Of Shipwrecked WWII Destroyer Released After History-Making Dive and all of our diving coverage.
Be sure to also visit our Antarctic coverage, including 7 Best Things About Visiting Antarctica.