Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance found off Antarctica after over 100 years

Miguel Ortiz
Updated onMar 11, 2022 5:17 AM PST
3 minute read
The ship's name and star remain intact on her stern (Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust)

The ship’s name and star remain intact on her stern (Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust)


Endurance was a three-masted ship launched in Norway in 1912. Originally christened Polaris, she was built with great hull strength…

Endurance was a three-masted ship launched in Norway in 1912. Originally christened Polaris, she was built with great hull strength and fitted with a 350-horsepower coal-fired engine to help her break through ice as a Scandinavian tourist ship. She was later sold to Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton who rechristened her Endurance.

Endurance tries to break through an ice pack in the Weddell Sea, 1915 (Frank Hurley - Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

In the spring of 1914, Endurance arrived in London where she was refitted from a tourist ship to an Antarctic explorer. Luxurious fittings and accommodations were replaced with stores and cargo holds for the vast amount of supplies and equipment needed to journey to the South Pole. Endurance was also repainted from white to black to make her more visible against the ice. However, she retained a large badge in the shape of a five-pointed star on her stern which symbolized her original name, Polaris.

On August 6, 1914, Endurance departed England for Buenos Aires, Argentina. The two-month trip across the Atlantic served as her shakedown voyage. Arriving without incident, Endurance then sailed from Buenos Aires to the island of South Georgia on October 26 and arrived on November 5. Exactly one month later, she sailed for Antarctica and the southern regions of the Weddell Sea.

Shackleton looks overboard as Endurance is crushed by the ice (Royal Geographical Society)

Just two days after leaving South Georgia, Endurance encountered a polar ice pack that brought her progress to a crawl. She averaged just 30 miles per day for weeks. By January 15, 1915, she came within 200 miles of her Antarctic destination, Vahsel Bay. However, heavy ice and an approaching gale forced the ship to take shelter under the lee of a grounded iceberg. The ice and gale passed and Endurance set out again three days later.

Unfortunately, Endurance ran into yet another ice pack. So close to their destination, it was decided to work through it. However, the thick but soft ice and strong winds kept up for six and days. By January 24, Endurance was completely icebound. Attempts were made to free the ship but, even at full sail and full engine power, the ice wouldn't yield.

Endurance's final sinking (Royal Geographical Society)

Further attempts to break free were made, but Shackleton halted them by mid-February to preserve coal and manpower. At the mercy of the ice and its drift, Endurance functionally became a shore station. Although the ship drifted within 60 miles of Vahsel Bay, the icy terrain was too treacherous for the crew to traverse will all of the equipment needed to make the journey.

The men lived aboard Endurance for months. By October, leaks and cracks in the ship were discovered and the pressure from the ice was increasing. Pumping operations continued up to and through October 25 to save the ship. However, by the end of the day, Shackleton ordered a halt to the damage control and for the crew to abandon ship. The next day, the crew returned to recover more supplies. Shackleton also had the ship's Blue Ensign hoisted up the mizzen mast so that Endurance would, in his words, "go down with the colours flying."

Over the following weeks, Endurance was slowly consumed by the ice. On November 21, 1915, the wreckage finally broke up and the ship sank into the Weddell Sea. The crew made camp on an ice floe where they stayed until they were all rescued in August 1916.

On February 5, 2022, an expedition set out from Cape Town, South Africa in search of Shackleton's lost ship. Called Expedition22, the team embarked on the South African polar research and logistics vessel S.A. Agulhas II. Using sonar, the Expedition22 team located Endurance approximately 4 miles south of where she sank. They used an unmanned submersible to establish visual contact on the wreck and explore the find.

The cold Antarctic water has helped preserve the ship (Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust)

Incredibly, the wreckage of Endurance was largely intact. "You can see inside the hatchways, the stairs. You can see the ropes and the rigging," expedition leader John Shears told NPR. "It's as if it sank only yesterday." Under the Antarctic Treaty, the wreck will remain untouched where it was found and protected as a historical site and monument.

Video thumbnail


Sign up for We Are The Mighty's newsletter and receive the mighty updates!

By signing up you agree to our We Are The Mighty's Terms of Use and We Are The Mighty's Privacy Policy.