Speed Reads

Sunken Treasure

Marine archaeologists find Shackleton's ship Endurance off Antarctica, 107 years after it sank

A Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust expedition on Saturday discovered the wreckage of Anglo-Irish explorer Sir. Ernest Shackleton's ship Endurance 10,000 feet below the surface of Antarctica's Weddell Sea, 107 years after it sank during Shackleton's famous, ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, BBC News reported early Wednesday. The ship sank in 1915 after getting stuck, then crushed, in sea ice, starting a long and heroic survival quest. 

"Without any exaggeration this is the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen — by far," marine archaeologist Mensun Bound, part of the FMHT expedition, told BBC News. "It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation." The expedition used a South African icebreaker, Agulhas II, and it took two weeks for its remote-operated submersibles to find the sunken ship. 

"The wreck itself is a designated monument under the international Antarctic Treaty and must not be disturbed in any way," BBC News reports. "No physical artifacts have therefore been brought to the surface."

SS Endurance

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Shackleton set out in 1914 to lead the first land expedition across Antarctica, from shore to shore over the South Pole. After the Endurance sank, he led his crew in small lifeboats on a perilous sea journey to the inhospitable Elephant Island, then took a smaller crew for the long sea voyage to South Georgia Island, where, after surviving treacherous seas and hurricane-force winds, he and two men trekked 32 miles across the mountainous island to get help. All his Endurance crew survived. 

Finding the Endurance was especially challenging because "the Weddell Sea is pretty much permanently covered in thick sea ice, the same sea ice that ruptured the hull of Endurance," BBC News explains. Luckily for the expedition, if not the planet, "this past month has seen the lowest extent of Antarctic sea-ice ever recorded during the satellite era, which stretches back to the 1970s."