Expedition Discovers the Wreck of Ernest Shackleton’s Last Ship

Quest sank in 1962

Ernest Shackleton
Explorer Ernest Shackleton at the Cape Royds base camp, Antarctica, 1908.
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The stories of polar expeditions — and the people who conduct them — are rarely neatly formed or easily confined. Ernest Shackleton, best known for his forays to the South Pole and Antarctica, was also engaged in diplomacy in World War I and took part in the Russian Civil War. He also continued exploring until the end of his life. That’s very literal, in this case: he died on an Antarctic expedition in 1922.

Turns out the vessels used for exploration also take unexpected routes. Quest, the last ship Shackleton used on that final journey, remained in use for another 40 years before sinking near Labrador. (The ship was, at the time, being used to hunt seals.) And now, more than 60 years after it sank, Quest has been located by an expedition from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

As Hadani Ditmars wrote at The Art Newspaper, the hunt for Quest included a small window with which to conduct the search and a last-minute discovery. How do you find a decades-old shipwreck? In this case, the process involved sending sonar over the same area repeatedly and then paying very careful attention to the results.

To hear the people behind this new voyage tell it, the exploration has been in the works for a while. “Finding Quest is one of the final chapters in the extraordinary story of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton was known for his courage and brilliance as a leader in times of crisis,” Royal Canadian Geographical Society CEO John Geiger told Canadian Geographic‘s Alexandra Pope. “The tragic irony is that his was the only death to take place on any of the ships under his direct command.”

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Now that Quest has been found, Pope reports that a second expedition will return to the site in the near future. There, the scientists on board will use a remote submersible to get closer to the shipwreck — and hopefully get a clearer picture of what remains of Quest along the way.

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