Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are conducting an expedition to explore shipwrecks in the uncharted waters of the deepest parts of the Gulf of Mexico, and they’re returning to the surface with some stunning footage.
As part of the mission, the researchers are using remote-operated submersibles to investigate a number of shipwrecks — some of them previously unidentified — that are resting thousands of feet underwater in the deepest, least-explored parts of the Gulf of Mexico.
From a tugboat that was the subject of a daring rescue mission during a tropical storm in the 1960s to German U-boats and pirate ships from the 19th century, the scientists and archaeologists are seeking to learn all they can about the histories of these ships, as the ocean slowly reclaims them.
Let’s start the journey to the depths of the sea:
On a previous expedition to the Gulf of Mexico, the scientists found multiple unidentified shipwrecks thousands of feet below the surface, like the one pictured below. The team decided to make identifying and investigating these wrecks a key part of their mission on a return expedition this year.
On the first dive, the ROV came across this tugboat, named New Hope. The tug went down during a severe tropical storm in 1965, and though the ship was lost, the Coast Guard managed to save everyone on board.
The boat was found at a depth of around 800 meters, or 2,640 feet. Here’s how the daring rescue went down, according to NOAA:
“On September 29, 1965, New Hope encountered the strong winds and high seas of Tropical Storm Debbie off the Louisiana coast. With the crew having trouble pumping water out of the hull, the U.S. Coast Guard received a distress call around 1 AM and dispatched an aircraft to deploy a backup pump. Also on board the aircraft was the latest in Search and Rescue technology: a floating radio beacon for use with a radio direction finder. In use, the beacon is dropped close to the distressed vessel to mark its position and to act as a drifting reference.
The seven-member crew boarded a life raft and abandoned the foundering New Hope at 3 AM, just as the aircraft arrived to mark its position with the beacon. Staying on scene until daylight, the aircraft vectored a Coast Guard helicopter to the raft to conduct a safe rescue of the entire crew.”
Shipwrecks can often be a cornucopia of marine life. Here, a deepwater red crab sits on the tug. These crabs are a commercially harvested species.
Shipwrecks can also be a goldmine for archaeologists seeking to understand a certain time period. Here’s a light fixture from the tug — an eerie window into a different time.
As the scientists were exploring the tug, they were perplexed by a bright white object hanging around the bow. It turned out to be a piece of trash. Even thousands of feet below the sea, humans still have an impact.
On the second day of the expedition, the researchers came across this unidentified shipwreck.
While they’re not exactly sure what ship this was, who was on it, or where it was going at the time it sank, the state of decay indicates the shipwreck is far older than the tug.
And like the tug, the shipwreck is a haven for marine life. Below decks, the ROV caught a glimpse of a strange sight the researchers dubbed a “Kraken Attack:” Two octopuses fighting for den space.
To see more of these octopuses, check out this video.
The researchers also found a glass bottle by the shipwreck, though it’s unclear where it’s from.
NOAA estimates there are over 4,000 shipwrecks in the Gulf. Over the years, they’ve uncovered fascinating finds, like this German U-Boat, which was responsible for sinking military ships by the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The German sub is the only known sub sunk by Allied forces in the Northern part of the Gulf.
Archaeologists believe this unidentified wreck, first discovered in 2012 and visited again in 2018, was a privateer ship under the employ of a Latin American country seeking independence from Spain in the early 19th century.
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