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The NOAA Looks Back at Failed Whaling Expedition

The whaling industry, once booming, was already declining when a whaling expedition in 1871 became a disaster. This expedition consisted of 40 ships, sailing near Wrainwright, Alaska. The crew of 32 of the ships were forced to evacuate and abandon them in the ice, creating a disastrous loss to the whaling industry. For years following, expeditions were sent to this area to try and recover remains from the lost ships and to learn from what was found. In 2005, archaeological researchers were sent by the National Geographic Society, The National Science Foundation, and the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium on a similar mission to find and study the failed expedition. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration later documented the results of their findings.

The archaeologists were tasked with this four year project not only to benefit future offshore surveys but also to discover exactly what happened during the failed expedition. In order to do this, they had to adjust their understanding of the shoreline near which remains of the vessels were found, as it would have been different at the time of the 1871 expedition. They also had to estimate where ship remains may have traveled over the course of over 100 years. The researchers built on the findings of past archaeologists who had explored the sights to develop conclusions about both of these factors.

The researchers were tasked with uncovering remains that spanned almost 100 miles by searching both the land and the water. They used technology such as remote sensors and techniques such as scuba diving with underwater metal detectors to explore the area under the water. Their exploration above the water consisted of searching for signs of wreckage and miscellaneous artifacts from the 1871 ships. They also were able to study the shoreline from above by flying over the land.

As time passed, the archaeological researchers were able to learn more about the erratic behavior of this Alaskan water and adjusted their methods accordingly. They located which area of water was most likely to hold wreckage based on the water’s behavior and changed the technology they were using to get a clearer view of the underwater space. Unfortunately, they were faced with uncooperative conditions. For example, erosion in the wreckage area is high, and the ice building and moving over the years most likely entrapped remnants of the 1871 fleet ships.

No matter how much specific areas in the large wreck site were singled out, no one piece of wreckage could be matched to a specific ship. This is not only because many of the remains were lost, but also due to the fact that all of the whaling ships were highly similar. Furthermore, many artifacts washed ashore from the wreckage could not be claimed by the researchers because nearby Inupiat villages used pieces of the ships for construction or in personal collections. Thankfully, the villagers took the researchers to the sites and allowed them to inspect the artifacts.

Study of the 1871 whaling ‘disaster’ is important in both archaeological and ocean exploration contexts. The wreckage holds a lot of insight into the past, and it also holds knowledge about the dangers of that specific portion of waters near Wrainwright, Alaska. Although whaling is now generally frowned upon, this information is key in further water travel and ocean exploration in that area.

Shark Week, Coming Soon!

With the Fourth of July right around the corner, millions of Americans will be flocking to the beaches to catch some rays and dip their toes in the water. Many will venture into the ocean and swim with the creatures from the deep. The first animal that comes to mind when ocean animal is brought up is the shark. Although the odds of encountering a shark are slim to none, The Discovery Channel is doing their part to get everyone excited while visiting the beach. The channel will be having their most popular week of television starting July 5th.

With an array of shows to be aired, there is something for everyone in the family. One aspect of Shark Week which is seemingly gaining popularity year after year is specials on how sharks are adapting and living in natural and changing environments. What many people tend to forget is that humans enter their homes, the ocean and are dumbfounded when sharks either attack or take interests in humans.

Shark Week will be airing more educational specials on sharks than they did in previous years to raise awareness and help the public understand what goes into the massive sharks minds when they do attack, and what provokes them. Learning what gets these animals provokes can help decrease the already low number of attacks on humans. With a full set of shows and specials set to air, the Discovery Channel is expected the highest rate of viewers this year. To see the full schedule of events, visit Discovery Channel’s website.

For more ocean news and exploration news and updates, please visit Dr. Larry Mayers Official Website.