Once something is lost in the Antarctic, it's likely to stay lost - at least, that's what everyone thought when Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship sunk there in 1915. As it turns out, this is not always the case as the Endurance has finally been discovered. After more than a century lying at the bottom of the Weddell Sea, it has been confirmed that the vessel was found by an arctic expedition team.
Based on what has been found thus far, the ship itself remains in remarkable condition at its depth. Many of its features and the ship's intricate details have not been lost to time, making for an even more incredible discovery.
Here's what we know of Endurance's miraculous reappearance in Antarctica.
Endurance: Found By The Endurance22 Expedition Team
In 1915, the Endurance encountered sea ice that crushed parts of the ship, causing it to sink in the Weddell Sea. Fortunately, the entire crew was able to make it to safety before the ship ultimately went down, seemingly never to be seen again. The process of finding the ship more than a century later is something many thought to be impossible. With thick sea ice that posed a threat to many a ship cutting through the waters of the Weddell Sea, technology - and ship construction - had to be ahead of the game in order for an expedition team to even consider it. With some luck, the Endurance22 crew was able to set out on the journey this year thanks to the lowest ever recorded levels of Antarctic sea ice since 1970.
The Endurance22 Expedition team revealed that the ship was found at a depth of 3,008 meters - roughly 10,000 feet - before their departure from Cape Town. The exact location of the ship was about four miles from the last positioning recorded by Captain Worsley, which was reachable via the Agulhas II, a South African polar research vessel that's owned by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and Environment. With Master, Captain Knowledge Bengu at the helm, and the help of Saab's Sabertooth hybrid underwater vehicles, the discovery came together in a feat proving victorious for the crew. In regard to finding the wreck, the Director of Exploration for the expedition stated:
"This is a milestone in polar history. However, it is not all about the past; we are bringing the story of Shackleton and Endurance to new audiences, and to the next generation, who will be entrusted with the essential safeguarding of our polar regions and our planet. 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. 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."
So, What Was Found 10,000 Feet Beneath The Surface?
The photos of the Endurance prove that the ship has been frozen in time since the day it sank. With immaculate details still showing the signs of skilled shipbuilders during the early 20th century, and the letters emblazoned on the bow of the ship above its iconic nautical star, there's no mistaking this vessel. The Endurance tells the story of an expedition crew bold enough to sail into treacherous arctic waters, even as it lies at the bottom of the Weddell Sea. Photos of the ship's wheel and aft well deck, in practically untouched condition, along with damage at the hull of the ship from striking the seabed, show in perfect clarity its journey and demise.
The masts of the ship are no longer standing and the rig is quite tangled, but the hull of the ship sits steadfast. The subs exploring the ship were also able to spot some crockery and crew boots, according to BBC News - findings that make the discovery all the more human and realistic. The anchors were also present near the ship as well, but the most chilling moment? Spotting the porthole that gave explorers a first-hand glimpse into the cabin of Shakleton, himself. Marine archeologist Mensun Bound told BBC that "at that moment, you really do feel the breath of the great man upon the back of your neck."
The ship wasn't the only thing that was discovered, though. The subs from the Endurance22 expedition also discovered that even at such a depth, marine life had attached itself to the hull of the vessel. Of them, stalked sea squirts, a variety of sea sponges, crinoids, anemones, and brittlestars had all found a home on the Endurance. However, it's the lack of sea creatures drawn to eating the sea-soaked wood of the ship that helped to preserve its condition underwater.
The incredible preservation of such a historic ship still appears almost identical to the last time it was photographed in 1915. According to the expedition crew, it will likely go down in history as one of the most well-preserved marine wrecks ever to be discovered.
The Story Of The Endurance & The Expedition Led By Ernest Shackleton
The Endurance is a ship that was often associated with tales of Elephant Island, an uninhabited, remote island in Antarctica. Receiving its name from the mountains that give it its unique features, the island itself is only seen via extreme arctic tours. However, it's on this same island that the crew of the Endurance took shelter on when the ship met an untimely end. The mission of the expedition was to become the first Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which would have made it the first official Antarctic land crossing.
Interestingly enough, while the crew remained on the island, moving several times in order to find shelter and food, the ship itself drifted for a time. Thus, the tale of the Trans-Antarctic journey also became one of survival, with Endurance proving to be significant in more ways than one. This, combined with the harsh conditions on the Antarctic sea, contributed to the vessel being lost for more than a century... until now. An incredible testament to the hard work done by the crew of the Endurance22 expedition team!