Posted by: The ocean update | January 11, 2016

Melting ice is revealing artifacts from 1871 whaling disaster (USA)

Lower sea-ice levels are helping expose artifacts from shipwrecks near Alaskan coast.

Lower sea-ice levels are helping expose artifacts from shipwrecks near Alaskan coast.

January 11th, 2016 (Jerry Newberry). In 1871, in what became known as the Great Whaling Disaster, 33 of 40 whaling vessels on a whale hunting mission were trapped by shifting pack ice while searching for whales off the coast of Alaska.  The ships and their precious cargo had to be abandoned, and more than 1,200 whalers and family members had to row across the sea in small boats to whaling ships nearby that would save them.

According to an article on, all of the evacuees survived the ordeal, but the loss of ships and cargo, and the fact the whaling ships had to dump their cargo to accommodate the additional passengers, pushed the loss to the industry to about $33 million in today’s money.

Some experts have described that event as a major contributor to the demise of the whaling industry in the United States.

Since that time, debris from the wreckage of the ships has washed ashore, but nothing specifically related the the wrecks of the whaling ships had been discovered in the icy waters.

Beginning in August of last year, a team of researchers from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, used advanced sonar and underwater sensing technologies to scan the bottom of the Chukchi Sea, near northwest Alaska.  The team discovered two shipwrecks that they think are part of the fleet lost in 1871.

While they are not yet certain the wrecks are from the Great Whaling Disaster, both of the found wrecks have beams and hull timbers that were in use at the time of the disaster, and it is known that more than half of the wrecks that have happened in the area were a part of the 1871 event.

Underwater video has revealed many artifacts, such as anchors, fasteners, pins and ballast, and even some of the whaling pots, used to turn whale blubber into whale oil.

But better technology is just a part of the recent findings.  The researchers say shrinking ice levels are uncovering all manner of artifacts, and the even report some of the articles are “just sitting there” for them to find.

NOAA isn’t worried about anyone disturbing the site due to historic preservation laws in place, and adds that there is no sunken treasure that may invite bounty seekers to investigate, other than the precious artifacts of historical significance.  But still, they do not plan to disclose the exact location of the sites publicly.



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