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Diminished Arctic Ice Reveals Lost Whaling Fleet

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Alaska whaling fleet WASHINGTON, D.C.—A team of archaeologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Maritime Heritage Program has found the hulls of two ships and pieces of other ships off the Arctic coast of Alaska, where in September 1871, 33 whaling ships were trapped by pack ice. The whaling captains decided to abandon their ships and transfer the more than 1,200 officers, crew, and families to shore. Seven other whaling ships in open water to the south jettisoned their cargoes and equipment in order to rescue those who had been stranded. The trapped ships were destroyed within weeks. “Earlier research by a number of scholars suggested that some of the ships that were crushed and sunk might still be on the seabed," NOAA archaeologist Brad Barr said in a press release. "But until now, no one had found definitive proof of any of the lost fleet beneath the water. This exploration provides an opportunity to write the last chapter of this important story of American maritime heritage and also bear witness to some of the impacts of a warming climate on the region’s environmental and cultural landscape, including diminishing sea ice and melting permafrost.” To read about a similar discovery, go to "Canada Finds Erebus." 

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