Ernest Shackleton’s Last Ship Found on the Ocean Floor Near Canada’s East Coast

Ernest Shackleton’s Last Ship Found on the Ocean Floor Near Canada’s East Coast

The last ship of Sir Ernest Shackleton was found at the bottom of the Labrador Sea this week, sitting upright and intact at a depth of 1,280 feet (390 meters). The ship called Quest sank in 1962, 40 years after the famous explorer’s death.

The research team that found the vessel was led by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. The team spent months reviewing ship logs, news articles, and legal documents to determine the approximate resting place of the vessel off the coast of Labrador. A side-scan sonar survey eventually detected the ship; an oblong blob in a sonar image indicated to the team not only the shipwreck’s location, but its relatively pristine condition.

“I can definitively confirm that we have found the wreck of Quest,” said David Mearns, a shipwreck hunter and member of the recent search team, in a Canadian Geographic article announcing the discovery. “Data from high resolution side-scan sonar imagery corresponds exactly with the known dimensions and structural features of this special ship, and is also consistent with events at the time of the sinking.”

A side-scan sonar image of Quest, upright on the seabed.

A 2022 expedition to find Shackleton’s ship Endurance, which famously sank in 1915 after being stuck in ice, found the three-masted schooner at the bottom of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea, some 9,900 feet deep.

Shackleton bought Quest (then Foca I) for £11,000 ($US639,379 in today’s currency) and outfitted it as an expedition vessel. Shackleton sailed Quest to South Georgia Island the following year, but promptly suffered a heart attack and died. According to Canadian Geographic, Quest bounced around over the 40 years between Shackleton’s death and its sinking in 1962.

The last photo of Quest, taken as the vessel slipped beneath the surface.

That April, Quest was crushed in ice in the Labrador Sea, causing water to enter the engine room the following month. The ship finally sank on May 5 at about 5:40 p.m. local time. The ship’s captain telegrammed its new owners the final position of the vessel—a data point that proved vital to the recent team in finding the wreck.

The wreck was discovered earlier this week, on Sunday, June 9, approximately 18 hours into the team’s investigation of the search area.Quest was found about 1.55 miles (2.5 kilometers) from its last known position, as telegrammed back in 1962.

The team’s next steps will be to send a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) down to the wreck, where they may capture clear images of the vessel similar to those snapped of Endurance in 2022.

The wreck of Endurance was found over a century after its loss in 1915, while Quest only disappeared some 62 years ago. The vessel Discovery, which was used in Shackleton’s successful mission to the Antarctic, managed to survive the icy conditions of such polar waters, and now sits in a museum in Dundee, where it was built.

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