NOAA archaeologists have discovered the battered hulls of two 1800s whaling ships nearly 144 years after they and 31 others sank off the Arctic coast of Alaska in one of the planet’s most unexplored ocean regions.
The shipwrecks, and parts of other ships, that were found are most likely the remains of 33 ships trapped by pack ice close to the Alaskan Arctic shore in September 1871. The whaling captains had counted on a wind shift from the east to drive the ice out to sea as it had always done in years past.
The ships were destroyed in a matter of weeks, leaving more than 1,200 whalers stranded at the top of the world until they could be rescued by seven ships of the fleet standing by about 80 miles to the south in open water off Icy Cape. No one died in the incident but it is cited as one of the major causes of the demise of commercial whaling in the United States.
In September, a team of archaeologists from the Maritime Heritage Program in NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries scoured a 30-mile stretch of coastline in the nearshore waters of the Chukchi Sea, near Wainwright, Alaska.
Using state-of-the-art sonar and sensing technology, the NOAA team was able to plot the “magnetic signature” of the two wrecks, including the outline of their flattened hulls. The wreck site also revealed anchors, fasteners, ballast, and brick-lined pots used to render whale blubber into oil.
The search for the abandoned whaling fleet was funded by NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research, in collaboration with the NOAA Office of Coast Survey and the Alaska Region of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
source: NOAA Fisheries