Scientists say they have found the sunken wreck of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance, more than a century after it was lost to the Antarctic ice.
The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust says the vessel lies 3,000 metres below the surface of the Weddell Sea, about 6.4 kilometres south of the location recorded in 1915 by its captain, Frank Worsley.
An expedition set off from South Africa last month to search for the ship, which was crushed by ice and sank in November 1915.
Mensun Bound, director of exploration for the Endurance22 expedition, said footage revealed the ship to be in remarkably good condition.
“This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen,” he said. “It is upright, well proud (clear) of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation. You can even see ‘Endurance’ arced across the stern, directly below the taffrail.”
Shackleton’s 1914-16 attempt to become the first person to cross Antarctica via the South Pole failed — he never set foot on the continent.
But his successful bid to reach help at a remote South Atlantic whaling station and rescue his men is considered a heroic feat of endurance. All the men survived and were rescued many months later.
The expedition to find the ship comes 100 years after Shackleton’s death in 1922.
British historian and broadcaster Dan Snow, who accompanied the expedition, tweeted that Endurance was found on Saturday, “100 years to the day since Shackleton was buried.”
He said the wreck had been filmed, but wouldn’t be touched.
“Nothing was touched on the wreck,” he said.
“Nothing retrieved. It was surveyed using the latest tools and its position confirmed. It is protected by the Antarctic Treaty. Nor did we wish to tamper with it.”
Sharing more photos and videos from behind the scenes of the discovery on social media, Snow said the wreck was “in an astonishing state of preservation”.
“The Antarctic seabed does not have any wood eating micro organisms, the water has the clarity of distilled water,” he wrote.
“We were able to film the wreck in super high definition. The results are magical”
Irish-British explorer Shackleton had a long-time obsession with the South Pole and set off on a total of four expeditions toward the White Continent.
Endurance departed from the UK in 1914 and reached Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound the following year on a journey called the the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
However, due to the extreme conditions, the ship got stuck amid thick, impenetrable ice in the Weddell Sea. The 28 men on board, including Shackleton himself, abandoned the Endurance and set up rudimentary camp facilities on board ice floes that were floating northward.
Eventually, the team made it to the uninhabited Elephant Island, then some — including Shackleton — volunteered to get in a lifeboat and head toward South Georgia Island, finally crossing it on foot to reach Stromness whaling station, which was then manned by the Norwegians, and organise a rescue of the men left behind on Elephant Island.
Although the expedition was a failure, the team’s survival and eventual rescue months later, without any loss of life, was seen as a triumph of their tenacity and the incredible leadership skills of Shackleton.
Following another expedition later in his life, Shackleton died on South Georgia Island in 1922, at the age of 47, and is buried there.
After being abandoned, Endurance eventually sank into the Weddell Sea, where she has been ever since.
Its resting place is about four miles south of where Captain Frank Worsley, a New Zealander who helmed the ship, had believed it to be.
The discovery team departed from Cape Town on the South African polar research and logistics vessel, S.A. Agulhas II. Fittingly, they dubbed their ship — and mission — Endurance22.
On board were a mixed group including scientists, historians and filmmakers who were capturing footage for an upcoming National Geographic documentary about the journey to locate Endurance.
Once they were close to where they believed the shipwreck was, explorers used Sabertooth hybrid underwater search vehicles made by Saab to locate her.
Instead, she will remain where she is and be studied, mapped and photographed there.
While Shackleton’s name and biography are still famous around the world, the Endurance22 mission is as focused on the future as the past.
Dr. John Shears, the expedition leader, said, “We have also conducted an unprecedented educational outreach program, with live broadcasting from on board, allowing new generations from around the world to engage with Endurance22 and become inspired by the amazing stories of polar exploration, and what human beings can achieve and the obstacles they can overcome when they work together.”