The ship of Anglo-Irish explorer and World War I veteran Ernest Shackleton has been found in the Weddell Sea off the coast of Antarctica — more than 100 years after it was lost — by a team of marine archeologists and scientists.
Shackleton’s ship, called the Endurance, was well preserved by the frigid waters and its name could still be seen on the side, long after it was encased by ice in 1915. Expedition leader John Shears said that he believed his team had “made polar history” after finishing “the world’s most challenging shipwreck search.”
The whole team agreed that the ship had been remarkably preserved.
“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,” said Mensun Bound, one of the directors of the mission.
Shackleton made several expeditions to try to reach the South Pole, and once planted the British flag just over 100 miles away from it. His travels were made famous during his expedition from 1914-1916 when the Endurance became stranded in ice and Shackleton and his crew were forced to abandon it.
For the next five months, Shackleton and his crew survived by floating on large sheets of ice before making it to Elephant Island. They lived off penguin and seal meat, and had to eat their dogs while on the island, located in the South Shetland Islands.
Eventually, they made it to South Georgia Island, after an 800-mile trip in a whale boat. All of the Endurance’s crew were able to make it off the island alive four months later, after Shackleton led groups across the island to get help and return.
Shackleton wrote two books about his explorations, one titled South (1919), which documented the story of the 1914-1916 expedition. The explorer would die in 1922, just starting out another expedition in which he and his crew hoped to circumnavigate Antarctica.
Now the ship, once lost to the ice, has been found using submersibles, after efforts by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and the S.A. Agulhas II, a logistics ship. The submersibles would, for several hours at a time, search the seafloor for any objects around where the archeologists believed the ship went down.
“The water was as clear as distilled water, with a visibility of 30 meters at least. It felt like time travel,” historian Dan Snow said.
This expedition, which had 63 members, was not the first attempt to find the lost ship. Several years ago, an early attempt failed due to difficult conditions in the icy waters.
“The Weddell Sea is probably the most difficult ocean to travel on worldwide,” Lasse Rabenstein, the lead scientist of the expedition, told Outside. “The goal was to assist the ship as much as possible with information so that we can smoothly and smartly travel through the ice.”
Bound, one of the mission’s directors, added that the discovery was a “milestone in polar history” and that he hoped it would inspire others to be interested in the Antarctic region.
“We hope our discovery will engage young people and inspire them with the pioneering spirit, courage and fortitude of those who sailed Endurance to Antarctica. We pay tribute to the navigational skills of Captain Frank Worsley, the Captain of the Endurance, whose detailed records were invaluable in our quest to locate the wreck,” he said.
The crew headed to South Georgia after the historic find to see the island where Shackleton and his crew survived for several months. After arriving at the island, where Shackleton is buried, the crew paid homage to the explorer and left new photos of the Endurance at the site.
“We ended this historic expedition yesterday with a visit to South Georgia. Here we visited Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave – and brought his ship back to him by pictures. An emotional end to a long story. Now we cross a choppy sea back to Capetown,” Stefanie Arndt, a scientist on the expedition explained.
A documentary about the expedition, which was made possible after an anonymous donor provided the $10 million needed to fund the trip, is expected to be aired in the fall of 2022 by National Geographic.
Preserving and honoring the story of Shackleton and his crew’s incredible story of survival was a motivating factor for many of those involved in the expedition. Rabenstein called him a “real hero.”
“Shackleton is probably more important for me than for the average person in society,” Rabenstein said. “He never gave up, but he also did not push it to the limit—all of his people he took on his expeditions, all of them survived. Other polar explorers were not so successful at that. He was a real hero if you look at how he dealt with failure.”