Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 9, 2022

Ernest Shackleton’s Ship Found

One hundred and seven years after the Endurance sank into the icy depths of the Weddell Sea off the coast of Antarctica, the wreckage of the ship belonging to Sir Ernest Shackelton has been found. Shackleton lived during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, the period from 1897–1922 during which sixteen major expeditions from eight countries focused on the Antarctic continent.

The ambitious polar explorer first ventured to Antarctica in 1901 aboard the Discovery as a member of the well-financed National Antarctic Expedition under the command of Robert F. Scott. Although this was the best equipped scientific expedition to Antarctica to date, Scott and his team failed to reach the South Pole.

Shackleton returned to Antarctica in 1908 aboard the Nimrod as a member of the British Antarctic Expedition. By January 9, 1908, Shackleton and three companions had trudged to within 96 miles of the South Pole. However, finding themselves dangerously short of supplies, Shackleton made the most difficult decision of his life — he turned his men toward home.

In 1911, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and the British explorer Robert F. Scott led their respective expeditions to Antarctica in an attempt to reach the South Pole. On December 14 of that year, Amundsen arrived at the pole a month before Scott. Sadly, Scott and his four companions died on their return journey.

In 1914, with the prize of the pole claimed by Amundsen, Shackleton set his sights on an ambitious new challenge — a trans-Antarctic expedition from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. He hoped to be the first to cross the cold continent on foot. Shackleton described this expedition as “the last great polar journey that can be made.”

In December 1914, Shackleton set out with twenty-eight men on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. However, Shackleton encountered an unexpected and devastating setback when his ship, the Endurance, became trapped in an ice pack in the Weddell Sea. The ship was later crushed, leaving Shackleton and his men stranded.

Shackleton and his men endured a twenty-month ordeal — one of the greatest survival stories of all time. After finally reaching Elephant Island, Shackleton selected a few men and made a daring attempt to reach a whaling station on South Georgia Island in a small lifeboat. He promised the men he left behind that he would return for them. He did. And he did not lose a man.

On March 5, the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s funeral, the wreckage of the Endurance was found — resting 10,000 feet beneath the spot where it was trapped and later crushed by the ice, leaving Shackleton and his men stranded.

The project to find the Endurance was mounted by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust. Using a South African icebreaker, Agulhas II, equipped with remotely operated submersibles, the discovery was an incredible achievement.

The mission’s leader, the veteran polar geographer Dr. John Shears, described the expedition as “the world’s most difficult shipwreck search, battling constantly shifting sea-ice, blizzards, and temperatures dropping down to -18C.” And yet, in spite of these challenges, the expedition “achieved what many people said was impossible.”

The ship is remarkably well preserved, due in part to the cold waters and the absence of wood-munching organisms. The wreckage will remain undisturbed by human interference as well because the site of Endurance was declared a historic monument under the terms of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty.

In a day when we are saddened by the current state of global affairs, we need to be reminded of individuals like Shackleton who set their sights of doing things to benefit rather than harm humanity. As a long-time fan of Shackleton, I am thankful for this bit of good news.

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