Expedition Finds Ernest Shackleton’s Legendary Ship Off Antarctica Coast

One of the world’s most amazing tales of maritime adventure has a new chapter: The wreck of the Endurance, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s legendary ship, lays in near-pristine condition off the coast of Antarctica.

An international team of experts announced the find this week, just over 100 years after Shackleton’s death.

“This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen,” said Mensun Bound, director of exploration on the Endurance22 expedition, in a press release. “It is upright … intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation. You can even see ‘Endurance’ arced across the stern, directly below the taffrail.”

No doubt about it:

Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust/National Geographic

The Endurance sank in the Weddell Sea in 1915 after being mired in ice for more than 10 months. Shackleton aimed to cross the Antarctic continent on foot. Instead, he and his crew ended up surviving on ice floes for months before a last-ditch attempt to reach rescuers proved successful.

Their survival involved getting to inhospitable Elephant Island and splitting up so part of the crew could take an 800-mile lifeboat trip to reach South Georgia Island. There, Shackleton and several others were finally able to reach a whaling station to send help back to the others still on Elephant Island. Shackleton and his entire crew of 28 survived, and Shackleton became a legendary figure. The ship was never found — until now.

The Endurance22 team started the mission in January aboard the S.A. Agulhas II, a South African research vessel. The multidisciplinary crew used unmanned deep-sea diving vehicles to locate the wreck under nearly 10,000 feet of water. It lies about four miles from its former position as recorded by Captain Frank Worsley.

The extremely deep, ice-cold water helps explain why the Endurance held up so well for more than a century.

Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust/National Geographic

“[It’s] a very inhospitable environment for just about everything,” maritime historian Steven Schwankert told the Associated Press. “Especially the kind of bacteria, mites and wood-eating worms that would otherwise enjoy munching on a wooden shipwreck.”

Dan Snow, a History Channel host, marked the day the expedition found the shipwreck on Twitter, pointing out that it actually happened exactly 100 years after Shackleton was buried.

Mission completed, the Endurance22 crew now move on to the next phase of their project: Spreading the word about Shackleton and Endurance, and continuing environmental research the team conducted while on the Antarctic ice.

“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,” Bound said.