Ernest Shackleton’s lost ice ship, Endurance, has been discovered in the waters of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. Endurance was crushed and sunk by pack ice in 1915, during Shackleton’s failed attempt to cross the Antarctic continent, and remained lost to the depths for more than a century.
Now, the wreck has been found, filmed and surveyed by members of the Endurance22 expedition, which set out in search of the shipwreck in February 2022. After weeks of surveying the seabed, the shipwreck was located in early March 2022, 100 years after Shackleton died in 1922.
In footage captured by the Endurance22 team using submersible vehicles, Endurance can be seen in exquisite detail, with coils of rope draped across the deck, the ship’s wheel stood upright and the brass ‘Endurance’ lettering emblazoned upon the stern, still shimmering after a century underwater.
Mensun Bound, Endurance22’s Director of Exploration, said of the discovery, “we are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and captured images of Endurance. This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen. It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact and in a brilliant state of preservation.”
The Endurance22 expedition departed from South Africa for Antarctica aboard SA Agulhas II, an icebreaking polar supply and research ship captained by Knowledge Bengu. The expedition had 35 days to search for the lost wreck, with the possibility to extend that to 45 days. The extension was taken, and the wreck was located in the final week of available search time.
Endurance was found at a depth of 3,008m. The wreck is protected by the Antarctic Treaty, under which it is classed as a ‘Historic Site and Monument’, meaning it cannot be disturbed. The Endurance22 team made use of state-of-the-art underwater search vehicles, SAAB Sabertooths, to survey and document the wreck site without touching it.
History Hit and media network Little Dot Studios joined as media partners of the Endurance22 expedition, which was funded by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust. History Hit Co-Founder and Creative Director Dan Snow documented the expedition in real-time across History Hit TV, HistoryHit.com and History Hit’s podcast network and social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
National Geographic has partnered exclusively with History Hit, Little Dot Studios (an All3Media company) and impact-driven production company Consequential on an epic documentary detailing the successful search and discovery of Endurance. It’s set to premiere in Autumn 2022, as part of National Geographic’s EXPLORER series, on National Geographic Channels and Disney+.
The wider Endurance22 team comprised marine archaeologists, engineers, scientists and extreme environment filmmakers.
When Endurance sank, her approximate location was calculated by her captain, Frank Worsley. It was an overcast day, however, so Worsley couldn’t use the sun to fix its position. Instead, he used previous days’ sextant readings and estimated the direction of ice drift to plot the rough coordinates of where the ship went down.
To try and locate the wreckage more than a century later, the Endurance22 team plotted a search area around Worsley’s estimated coordinates and used hybrid underwater vehicles to search the seabed looking for shapes and anomalies. Endurance was located roughly 4 miles south of Worsley’s estimated position.
Dr. John Shears, the polar geographer who headed the Endurance22 expedition, said, “we have made polar history with the discovery of Endurance, and successfully completed the world’s most challenging shipwreck search… We have also conducted an unprecedented educational outreach programme, with live broadcasting from onboard, allowing new generations from around the world to engage with Endurance22.”
Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917) hoped to accomplish the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. The plan was to sail from South Georgia to Antarctica’s Vahsel Bay. From there, the men would travel by dog sleds and on foot to the Ross Sea, on the opposite side of the Antarctic landmass, via the South Pole.
On 5 December 1914, Ernest Shackleton departed from South Georgia for Antarctica, despite warnings from whalers in South Georgia that the Weddell Sea would be unnavigable due to the thick ice coverage that year.
Soon after, on 18 January 1915, Endurance became trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea. She endured 10 months wedged within the pack, until an increase in pressure forced the ship’s stern into the air and tore off its rudder. Endurance sank on 21 November 1915.
The stranded crew then endured a treacherous journey across land, ice and sea back to South Georgia and civilisation. All 28 men survived. Endurance remained unseen, lost in the icy waters of the Weddell Sea, for nearly 107 years.