NOAA, partners discover wreck of 207-year-old whaling ship

This image of an anchor was taken from the 1836 shipwreck site of the brig Industry in the Gulf of Mexico by the NOAA ROV deployed from NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer on February 25, 2022. (Photo: NOAA Ocean Exploration)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its partners have confirmed the discovery of the wreck of a 207-year-old whaling ship found on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

The NOAA said the wreck is likely that of the 64-foot (19.5-metre) long, two-masted wooden brig Industry.

With guidance provided via satellite connection from partner scientists on shore, a team aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer piloted a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to explore the seafloor on February 25, 2022, at a suspected location first spotted by an energy company in 2011 and viewed briefly by an autonomous vehicle in 2017, but never fully examined.

Armed with extensive research on Industry and the video from the ROV, a team of shoreside scientists have now confirmed that the wreck is most likely the brig Industry.

The whaling brig was built in 1815 in Westport, Massachusetts, and hunted whales across the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico for 20 years. It was lost when a strong storm snapped its masts and opened its hull to the sea on May 26, 1836.

Industry was whaling primarily for sperm whales more than 70 miles (112 kilometres) off the mouth of the Mississippi River. It is the only whaling ship known to have been lost in the Gulf of Mexico out of 214 whaling voyages from the 1780s to the 1870s.

While Industry eventually sank, the fate of the crew remained unknown for several years. This was until Robin Winters, a librarian at the Westport Free Public Library, found a June 17, 1836 newspaper article that reported the crew were picked up at sea by another Westport whaling ship and the survivors were returned safely to Westport.

There are plans to nominate the wreck site for the National Register of Historic Places as part of a larger project to document historic 19th century shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico.

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