A 207-year-old whaling ship has been found resting in the Gulf of Mexico, thought to be the only whaling ship to go down in the region.
The ship was found by the joint efforts of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), SEARCH Inc, and other scientists. The ship, called the Industry, sank on May 26, 1836, after 20 years at sea hunting whales. It ran into a storm that broke open its hull and destroyed its masts.
“The whaling brig was built in 1815 in Westport, Massachusetts, and hunted whales across the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico for 20 years,” NOAA explained. “It is the only whaling ship known to have been lost in the Gulf of Mexico out of 214 whaling voyages from the 1780s to the 1870s.”
It added that the crew of Industry would likely have been hunting sperm whales, a valuable commodity at the time.
Dr. James Delgado, senior vice president of SEARCH, was in charge of the shoreside scientists involved in the investigation. According to NOAA, the discovered wreck was determined “likely” to be the Industry by Scott Sorset, a marine archeologist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and SEARCH archeologist Michael Brennan.
“That there were so few artifacts on board was another big piece of evidence it was Industry,” Sorset explained. “We knew it was salvaged before it sank.” Prior to it sinking to the bottom of the Gulf, four anchors and over 200 barrels of oil had been rescued from the 64 foot long ship by a Massachusetts based whaling ship.
Those involved in the discovery also pointed out that the crew of the ship included both black and Native Americans. William Cuffe, son of black whaler, abolitionist, and merchant Paul Cuffe, worked on the Industry as a navigator.
“Today we celebrate the discovery of a lost ship that will help us better understand the rich story of how people of color succeeded as captains and crew members in the nascent American whaling industry of the early 1800s,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad stated. “The discovery reflects how African Americans and Native Americans prospered in the ocean economy despite facing discrimination and other injustices.”
The Elizabeth, another whaling ship, rescued the crew of the Industry as it was going down and brought the crew back to Massachusetts.
“This was so fortunate for the men onboard,” Delgado said. “If the Black crewmen had tried to go ashore, they would have been jailed under local laws. And if they could not pay for their keep while in prison, they would have been sold into slavery.”
The ship, which was constructed in Westport, Massachusetts, was found using a remote operated vehicle (ROV) to search the seafloor around where experts suspected the ship was lying. On February 25, 2022, scientists and archeologists aboard the Okeanos Explorer found the wreck of the Industry using the ROV.
Spinrad noted that the find was important for understanding America’s maritime history.
“It is also an example of how important partnerships of federal agencies and local communities are to uncovering and documenting our nation’s maritime history,” he said.