NOAA announces discovery of 207 year old shipwreck in Gulf

Whaling ship, called Industry, found on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico

NOAA recently released images of a new shipwreck discovery of a 207-year-old whaling ship in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship was called “Industry” and got stuck in a strong storm back in May of 1836 -- snapping its masts and sinking the ship.

The Industry was found more than 70 miles off the mouth of the Mississippi River. This is the only whaling ship known to have been lost in the Gulf of Mexico.

NOAA Ocean Exploration documented the brig Industry shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico at a depth of 6,000 feet below the Gulf surface. The brig sank in the summer of 1836 after a storm snapped its masts and opened the hull to the sea. (NOAA Ocean Exploration) (NOAA)

Whaling ships were known for hunting whales across the eastern seaboard and Gulf. The Industry was built in 1815 in Westport, Massachusetts, and hunted whales across the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf for nearly 20 years. They hunted primarily for sperm whales.

From the 1780s to the 1870s the industry was the only known whaling ship to have been lost in the Gulf of Mexico according to data from 214 whaling voyages offshore.

This image of the tryworks was taken from the shipwreck site of brig Industry by a NOAA ROV. The tryworks was a cast iron stove with two deep kettles used to render whale blubber into oil. It was manufactured by G & W Ashbridge, a Philadelphia company. (NOAA Ocean Exploration) (NOAA)

According to NOAA, “with guidance provided via satellite connection from partner scientists onshore, 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.”

The team of scientists working on the discovery was led by James Delgado, Ph.D., senior vice president of SEARCH Inc.; Scott Sorset, marine archeologist for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM); and Michael Brennan, Ph.D., also of SEARCH Inc. The team has confirmed that the wreck likely the brig Industry.

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

This whaling ship opened our eyes to a bit of American history when descendants of African enslaved people and Native Americans served as essential crew in one of the nation’s oldest industries.

“Today we celebrate the discovery of a lost ship that will help us better understand the rich story of how people of color succeeded as captains and crew members in the nascent American whaling industry of the early 1800s,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “The discovery reflects how African Americans and Native Americans prospered in the ocean economy despite facing discrimination and other injustices. It is also an example of how important partnerships of federal agencies and local communities are to uncovering and documenting our nation’s maritime history.”

The mosaic of images from the NOAA video of the brig Industry shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico, February 25, 2022, shows the outline in sediment and debris of the wooden hull of the 64-foot by 20-foot whaling brig. The tryworks and two anchors are also visible. A third anchor is buried in the sediment near the tryworks. Mosaic was created by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management using NOAA ROV video footage. (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) (NOAA)

The big question was what happened to the crew when the ship was going down back on May 26, 1836?

Research by Robin Winters, a librarian at the Westport Free Public Library, shows that the crew was actually picked up at sea by another Westport whaling ship, Elizabeth, and the crew was returned safely to Westport.

Officials say they plan to nominate the site of the wreckage for the National Register of Historic Places.

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