Shackleton’s Endurance: Polar explorer tells of epic discovery

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Conference hears vivid account of discovery

Marine archaeologist Mensun Bound gave a vivid account of the discovery of Ernest Shackleton’s legendary ship Endurance at a recent conference in Edinburgh.

Mensun Bound is one of the world’s leading experts on the famous shipwreck. Known as the ‘Indiana Jones of the Deep.’ 

Shackleton’s team on Endurance, 1914, Shackleton is pictured in white in the centre, behind the rail. Photo credit: Royal Geographical Society via Alamy Stock PhotoMensun Bound on his quest to find the Endurance. Photo credit: Esther Horvath for Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust / National Geographic.

He made waves across the world in March when the team on S.A. Agulhas II discovered the famous shipwreck in near-perfect condition 10,000 feet beneath the Weddell Sea off Antarctica.

He was the Director of Exploration on two dramatic expeditions to find the Endurance, more than a century after it became trapped in ice and sank. His recent book on his experience is entitled The Ship Beneath the Ice.

As did Shackleton, Oxford based Mensun Bound experienced failure and despair as he and his team sought to make polar history. 

At times their expedition vessel was at risk of being frozen in ice. However, they overcame the challenges of working in what Shackleton called ‘the most hostile sea on earth’ to achieve their goal of finding the Endurance

‘I have dreamed all my life of getting to the Endurance. I have discovered many shipwrecks but this was the absolute prize,’ said Mensun.

World Extreme Medicine’s annual conference

He took centre stage at World Extreme Medicine’s annual conference in Edinburgh in November this year. 

His talk entitled ‘The Search for the Endurance: A Story 106 Years in the Making’ brought to life Shackleton’s extraordinary story before a global audience, in person and online, including fellow explorers and world-leading experts in the field of extreme medicine. 

His newly released book (Macmillan, 27th October) includes previously untold stories of Shackleton’s epic survival. 

He was able to recount some of these gripping tales to his audience in Edinburgh, among them medical professionals from all walks of life who are no strangers to danger and adversity. 

Conference organiser World Extreme Medicine encompasses a network of around a quarter of a million pioneering adventurers who promote and practise extreme medicine in all parts of the globe, as well as undersea and in space.

Since finding the Endurance, Mensun has warned that the survival of the wreck cannot be guaranteed because of the combined threats of global warming and underwater robotic technology that could enable thefts from the historic site. 

In May this year, he first expressed his fears that ocean acidification and melting ice will take their toll on the shipwreck. 

He is also concerned that underwater robotic systems could become so advanced that they could be programmed from afar to travel ‘invisibly’ to where the vessel lies at depth. 

Mensun Bound on his quest to find the Endurance Photo credit Esther Horvath for Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust National Geographic

Dramatic deterioration to wreck

Speaking to Wreckwatch magazine, he said he was shocked by the dramatic deterioration in environmental conditions between his 2019 and 2022 expeditions to find the Endurance. 

‘There was very little of the old, thick, gnarled, multi-year ice, and there was hardly any of the muscularity or pressure experienced in 2019.’ 

‘This time it was mainly thin first-year ice, and we were never under serious threat of becoming ice-bound. Was this an aberration peculiar to 2022 or part of a trend?’ 

‘If the trend continues, we won’t be able to depend much longer on that hard carapace of perennial sea ice to protect the Endurance.’

‘There’s always been environmental change of one kind or another, but taking place over many thousands of years.’ 

‘What we’re seeing now has all happened within my lifetime which, in the scheme of things, is no more than the flick of a penguin’s tail. Although it looks serene and beautiful, Antarctica is a continent in pain; it’s a continent poised for catastrophe.’

This year marked the 11th annual World Extreme Medicine conference. For more than 25 years, Devon-based WEM has run specialist courses teaching medical professionals how to operate in remote and challenging environments. 

Photography kindly supplied by Macmillan via IF Media

Endurance wreck. Photo credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

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