On the eve of the first world war, the British explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew set out to be the first to cross Antarctica over land. Unfortunately for them, Antarctica had other plans.
As anybody who lives in Michigan knows, winter doesn’t care about your plans. In fact, it has its own plans which are obviously incredibly important and your plans can just move over and make way. Shackleton and crew learned this lesson on the 19th of January, 1915, while sailing through pack ice in the Weddell Sea, when their ship hit a particularly dense ice flow and got stuck.
Now I think we can all agree that, when it comes to sailing in Antarctica, “stuck” is not a good state to be in, but by all accounts the crew lived quite comfortably on their ship-turned-small-island for another nine months before the hull finally gave in to the increasing pressure of the sea ice and began to crack. Even then they had nearly another month to disembark and secure their supplies, although that didn’t save them from a harrowing journey to reestablish contact with humanity after the Endurance finally sank on October 27th, 1915. Luckily all hands survived in the end, but our story stays with the Endurance, which lay, lost, somewhere at the bottom of the Antarctic sea, never to be seen again. Until now.
As internet commentators smarter than me have pointed out, the ship really is in remarkable shape for having been literally crushed and then dumped on the seafloor for 107 years. Indeed, as Mensun Bound, Director of Exploration for the expedition that found the wreck, wrote in his announcement of the discovery, “In a long career of surveying and excavating historic shipwrecks, I have never seen one as bold and beautiful as this.”
The simplest explanation for this of course is that, as polar biologist Michelle Taylor told the BBC, much like humans (other than Ernest Shackleton) most animals have the good sense to stay far away from an environment as frigid and hostile as the Antarctica sea, and that includes many of the maritime critters that would normally live in and/or eat a brand new wooden microbiome falling into their world. As the wreck is considered a historic site, the expedition team is also taking a cue from the fish and leaving the ship untouched, assuring the public that nothing about its current condition will be disturbed.
They are, however, able to send in an underwater remote vehicle (fish drone, basically) to document the wreck from afar, and the pictures that have come to the surface so far are nothing short of stunning. So wherever you are this week, whether it’s celebrating a marking period at an end or rushing to get those last few assignments done, take a moment to witness this, something no human has seen for more than 100 years, and maybe you’ll feel what I do: awe.