Long-Lost Explorer Shipwreck Found Amazingly Preserved Under Antarctic Ice

Endurance, the vessel that carried Ernest Shackleton to Antarctica a century ago, has been found and filmed under two miles of ice.
Endurance, the vessel that carried Ernest Shackleton to Antarctica a century ago, has been found and filmed under two miles of ice.
Endurance. Image: © Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust / National Geographic
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A long-lost ship that carried explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew to Antarctica more than a century ago has been rediscovered in exceptional condition under nearly two miles of ice. 

On Wednesday, the quest to locate Endurance, a wooden vessel that sank into the Antarctic ice in 1915 during an epic journey of survival, officially came to an end, announced the scientific expedition Endurance22, which has been searching for the wreckage for weeks.  

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“Endurance is found,” said the expedition team in a tweet that included an eerie image of the ship’s stern, which still bears the letters of its famous name above a five-pointed star (a vestige of the ship’s first name: Polaris). 

“We have made polar history with the discovery of Endurance, and successfully completed the world’s most challenging shipwreck search,” John Shears, a polar geographer leader of Endurance22, said in a statement.

Dan Snow, a historian who is part of the expedition, tweeted that the wreck is in “an astonishing state of preservation.” 

“The Antarctic seabed does not have any wood-eating microorganisms, the water has the clarity of distilled water,” he said. “We were able to film the wreck in super-high definition. The results are magical.”

Endurance was the centerpiece of a legendary attempt to make the first land crossing of Antarctica, known as the Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914 to 1917. Though Shackleton failed to achieve this goal, the expedition has become a celebrated story of, well, endurance in the face of punishing odds in an unforgiving environment. 

After the ship was ultimately crushed and swallowed by an ice floe on Nov. 21, 1915, Shackleton and his 27 crewmates were marooned for months in camps on the frozen surface of the Antactica’s Weddell Sea. In April 1916, as the ice broke, the men launched a multi-day escape on lifeboats to the uninhabited refuge of Elephant Island; Shackleton then led a small crew on a bold expedition across ​​800 miles of open ocean to the island of South Georgia where they were able to organize a rescue. All of the men survived.

For decades, explorers and scientists have hoped for an opportunity to locate the ship’s wreckage in its icy tomb. Endurance22, an interdisciplinary collaboration organized by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, has now made good on this dream.

Shears and his crew onboard the South African research icebreaker S.A. Agulhas II re-introduced the ship to the world in stunning video clips captured by underwater cameras. Because Endurance is considered a historical landmark under the Atlantic Treaty, the ship will remain untouched, though there are plans to extensively film and study it in future. 

“This is a milestone in polar history,” said Mensun Bound, the expedition’s director of exploration in a statement. “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.”