In Photos: Searching for Shackleton's 'Endurance' Shipwreck

Stuck in the ice

Antarctic shipwreck Endurance

(Image credit: Frank Hurley, 1915/public domain)

Scientists on an expedition to Antarctica early next year hope to find the wreck of the Endurance, the ship led by polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, which became icebound and sank in the Weddell Sea in 1915.

The modern expedition hopes to learn more about the Larsen C ice shelf at the edge of the Weddell Sea, on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Recording the moment

Antarctic shipwreck Endurance

(Image credit: Frank Hurley, 1915/public domain)

While they are in the Weddell Sea region, the scientists on board the South African polar research ship Agulhas II hope to use autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to search beneath the sea ice for the wreck of the Endurance.

The ship was abandoned by Shackleton and his crew in October 1915, after it had become trapped in sea ice for many months and was starting to sink.

Grand plans

Antarctic shipwreck Endurance

(Image credit: 1916 public domain)

Shackleton and his crew had planned to sail to the southern edge of the Weddell Sea, and from there cross Antarctica overland by dog sled to the Ross Sea, where they would be met by another ship.

The expedition was called the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Leader of the pack

Antarctic shipwreck Endurance

(Image credit: 1909 public domain)

The expedition leader Ernest Shackleton was experienced marine officer on the commercial ships known as Britain's Merchant Navy.

He had made two previous ship expeditions to Antarctica before he took command of the Endurance in 1914 for the Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Caught in the floe

Antarctic shipwreck Endurance

(Image credit: Frank Hurley, 1915/public domain)

Before the expedition could reach the coast of Antarctica, the Endurance became frozen in an ice floe in the deep south of the Weddell Sea in January 1915.

Efforts by the crew to free the ship from the sea ice were unsuccessful.

A total loss

Antarctic shipwreck Endurance

(Image credit: Frank Hurley, 1915/public domain)

The crew of the Endurance spent the Antarctic winter of 1915 trapped on their ship in the sea ice, which slowly drifted to the north west.

At the end of October 1915, Shackleton and the crew abandoned the ship. It was completely crushed by the ice a few days later, and sank beneath the ice on 21 November.

Making do

Antarctic shipwreck Endurance

(Image credit: Frank Hurley, 1915/public domain)

After abandoning the Endurance, Shackleton and the 27 other members of the expedition camped on an ice floe, and attempted to reach the land by dog sled.

Surviving the South Pole

Antarctic shipwreck Endurance

(Image credit: Frank Hurley, 1915/public domain)

In mid-April 1915 Shackleton and his crew reached Elephant Island, at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, in three lifeboats that they had rescued from the Endurance.

Searching for help

Antarctic shipwreck Endurance

(Image credit: Frank Hurley, 1915/public domain)

In late April, Shackleton and five members of the crew set out in one of the lifeboats on a sea voyage to the island of South Georgia, where there was a whaling station, to bring back help for the remaining crew camped at Elephant Island.