Shackleton’s lost ship Endurance found 107 years after sinking in Antarctica

9 Mar 2022

The Endurance shipwreck, located more than 3,000 metres deep in the Weddell Sea in Antarctica. Image: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic

The discovery was described as a ‘milestone in polar history’, with Endurance found at a depth of 3,008 metres in the Weddell Sea.

The wreckage of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, has been found off the coast of Antarctica 100 years after his death.

The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust confirmed the shipwreck was found at a depth of 3,008 metres in the Weddell Sea, roughly 6.5km south of the position originally recorded by the ship’s captain, Frank Worsley.

The Endurance22 expedition tasked with finding the ship said the wreck is protected as a historic site under the Antarctic Treaty, which will prevent it from being touched or disturbed while it is filmed and surveyed. Director of exploration Mensun Bound said the discovery is “a milestone in polar history”.

“This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen,” Bound said. “It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact and in a brilliant state of preservation. You can even see ‘Endurance’ arced across the stern, directly below the taffrail.

“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,” he added. “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.”

The Endurance shipwreck with its name visible underwater.

The Endurance name still visible on the stern of the ship. Image: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic

The expedition’s leader, Dr John Shears, said the team has conducted an “unprecedented educational outreach programme” with live broadcasting onboard, to help new generations become “inspired by the amazing stories of polar exploration”.

“We have made polar history with the discovery of Endurance, and successfully completed the world’s most challenging shipwreck search,” Shears said. “In addition, we have undertaken important scientific research in a part of the world that directly affects the global climate and environment.”

While searching for the Endurance, a team of scientists conducted hundreds of hours of climate-related studies over the duration of the expedition. The expedition team said these studies will “materially help our understanding of this remote region and how it influences our changing climate”.

The South African polar research and logistics vessel SA Agulhas II, sailing through ice.

South African polar research and logistics vessel SA Agulhas II. Image: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and James Blake

At the end of 1914, Shackleton’s goal was to achieve the first land crossing of Antarctica from the Weddell Sea via the South Pole to the Ross Sea.

According to reports, the Endurance never reached land and became trapped in dense pack ice, which forced the 28 men on board to abandon ship in 1915.

The crew spent months in makeshift camps on the ice, until Shackleton and five others made an 1,300km lifeboat journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia.

Eventually, Shackleton made it to the island’s whaling station of Stromness and was able to mount a rescue for the crew, bringing them home without loss of life.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic