See the Well-Preserved Wreckage of Ernest Shackleton’s Ship Endurance Found in Antarctica

110 years after its first and last voy­age, we remem­ber the RMS Titan­ic and its tout­ed “unsink­a­bil­i­ty” as one of the resound­ing ironies of mar­itime his­to­ry. But 1912 also saw the launch of anoth­er new­ly built yet ill-fat­ed ship whose name proved all too apt: Endurance, as it was rechris­tened by Sir Ernest Shack­le­ton when he pur­chased it to use on his Impe­r­i­al Trans-Antarc­tic Expe­di­tion of 1914. In Jan­u­ary of the fol­low­ing year, Endurance got stuck in the ice of the Wed­dell Sea off Antarc­ti­ca, and over the fol­low­ing ten months that ice slow­ly crushed and ulti­mate­ly sank the ship. But her whole crew sur­vived, thanks to Shack­le­ton’s lead­ing them more than 800 miles over the open ocean to safe­ty.

Shack­le­ton and his men have been cel­e­brat­ed for their endurance; as for Endurance her­self, it has spent more than a cen­tu­ry unseen at the bot­tom of the ocean — unseen, that is, until now. “A team of adven­tur­ers, marine archae­ol­o­gists and tech­ni­cians locat­ed the wreck at the bot­tom of the Wed­dell Sea, east of the Antarc­tic Penin­su­la, using under­sea drones,” writes the New York Times’ Hen­ry Foun­tain. “Bat­tling sea ice and freez­ing tem­per­a­tures, the team had been search­ing for more than two weeks in a 150-square-mile area around where the ship went down in 1915.”

Time turns out to have been kind to Shack­le­ton’s ship: “Endurance’s rel­a­tive­ly pris­tine appear­ance was not unex­pect­ed, giv­en the cold water and the lack of wood-eat­ing marine organ­isms in the Wed­dell Sea that have rav­aged ship­wrecks else­where.” You can glimpse Endurance in her watery grave in the Marine Tech­nol­o­gy TV video at the top of the post. But you’ll also see a lot more of anoth­er impres­sive ship: Agul­has II, the South African ice­break­er used by Endurance22, as the $10 mil­lion research expe­di­tion was called. What­ev­er the chal­lenges posed by final­ly track­ing down Endurance, their brunt was­n’t borne by that mighty ves­sel.

“Aside from a few tech­ni­cal glitch­es involv­ing the two sub­mersibles, and part of a day spent ice­bound when oper­a­tions were sus­pend­ed, the search pro­ceed­ed rel­a­tive­ly smooth­ly,” reports Foun­tain. The nature of this expe­di­tion, espe­cial­ly in its use of sub­mersibles to observe the wreck­age with­out dis­turb­ing it, may bring back to mind (for those of us of a cer­tain age) the 1992 doc­u­men­tary Titan­i­ca, which aston­ished us with the first up-close, IMAX-sized views of the sunken Titan­ic. Con­sid­er­ing the advance­ments in explorato­ry and pho­to­graph­ic tech­nol­o­gy in the three decades since — and the con­di­tion of Endurance itself — the film that even­tu­al­ly results from Endurance22 should aston­ish us all over again.

For any­one inter­est­ed in Shack­le­ton’s remark­able adven­ture, we rec­om­mend the book The Endurance: Shack­le­ton’s Leg­endary Antarc­tic Expe­di­tion.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear Ernest Shack­le­ton Speak About His Antarc­tic Expe­di­tion in a Rare 1909 Record­ing

Google Street View Opens Up a Look at Shackleton’s Antarc­tic

How the Titan­ic Sank: James Cameron’s New CGI Ani­ma­tion

The Titan­ic: Rare Footage of the Ship Before Dis­as­ter Strikes (1911–1912)

New­ly Dis­cov­ered Ship­wreck Proves Herodotus, the “Father of His­to­ry,” Cor­rect 2500 Years Lat­er

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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