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Wreck of ship on which famed explorer Ernest Shackleton died found on ocean floor off Canada

Raw video: 1915 shipwreck discovered off Antarctica
Raw video: Shackleton's 1915 shipwreck discovered off Antarctica 00:53

The wreck of the ship that famed explorer Ernest Shackleton died on more than a century ago has been found on the ocean floor off the coast of Canada, according to a news release from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society

Shackleton was a legendary explorer who sailed to the edges of the Earth, including four trips to Antarctica. During one notable expedition in 1915, his iconic ship Endurance became trapped by sea ice. The ship sank, but Shackleton and his entire crew survived the episode. The Endurance shipwreck was finally found in 2022

Seven years later, in 1922, Shackleton would die aboard the Quest, a Norwegian vessel, during another expedition to the polar region. Shackleton's death of a heart attack at 47 ended what historians consider the "Heroic Age of Polar Exploration," the RCGS said. 

Ernest Shackleton
Ernest Shackleton in 1921, one year before his death. AP

After Shackleton's death, the Quest was acquired by a Norwegian company and continued to sail important expeditions, including the 1930 British Arctic Air Route Expedition, the RCGS said. The ship was also used in Arctic rescues and even was part of the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. 

In 1962, while being used as a sealing ship, the Quest was damaged by ice off the coast of Newfoundland and sank. The crew survived, the RCGS said, but the ship landed on the seabed more than 1,200 feet underwater. 

The wreck was found just a mile and a half away from the ship's last reported position, but it took sonar equipment and an international team of experts to find the site, the RCGS said. The "Shackleton Quest Expedition" team included participants from Canada, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. Search director David Mearns said that he and lead researcher Antoine Normandin cross-referenced historic logs and maps with historical data to determine where currents and weather conditions may have carried the ship. 

An archival photo shows the Quest sinking in 1962. Royal Canadian Geographical Society

Just five days into the expedition, the site was found, with historians, divers and oceanographers working together to confirm the wreck's identity. 

"In the pantheon of polar ships, Quest is definitely an icon,"  Mearns told BBC News  

On Sunday, the wreck was confirmed to be that of the Quest, the RCGS said. 

"Finding Quest is one of the final chapters in the extraordinary story of Sir Ernest Shackleton," said expedition leader John Geiger, CEO of the RCGS, in the news release. "Shackleton was known for his courage and brilliance as a leader in crisis. The tragic irony is that his was the only death to take place on any of the ships under his direct command."

The ship remains intact, Mearns said, and sonar imagery "corresponds exactly with the known dimensions and structural features of this special ship." 

A side-scan sonar image shows the wreck of Quest lying upright and intact on the seabed. Photo © Canadian Geographic

The explorers are planning to return to the shipwreck, potentially later this year, to conduct a more complete investigation, the BBC reported.

"Right now, we don't intend to touch the wreck. It actually lies in an already protected area for wildlife, so nobody should be touching it," associate search director Antoine Normandin said. "But we do hope to go back and photograph it with a remotely operated vehicle, to really understand its state."

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Shackleton's birth. His granddaughter, Alexandra Shackleton, was a patron of the expedition and said that finding the shipwreck during such a memorable anniversary has made its discovery all the more meaningful.

"My grandfather, Sir Ernest Shackleton, had purchased Quest with the intention of leading a Canadian Arctic expedition," she said. "It is perhaps fitting that the ship should have ended its storied service in Canadian waters. I have long hoped for this day and am grateful to those who made this incredible discovery."

Shackleton continues to spark interest more than a century after his death. The BBC reports that hundreds of people visit his grave on every year to pay their respects to the man known as "The Boss."

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