Shipwreck stories

Look: Deteriorated remains of a 186-year-old whaling ship found in the Gulf of Mexico

There’s barely anything left, but the pieces that remain tell a fascinating story.

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Commercial whaling was once a booming industry in New England.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, people hunted whales and used their blubber as a lubricant for machinery, and their bones to make various light but sturdy objects.

Whaling was also an incredibly dangerous business.

Injuries and death were common on every voyage. And as with any venture at sea, shipwrecks weren’t uncommon for the time.

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One such ship that met a fateful end was the Industry, a brig built in 1815 and used to hunt whales for 20 years.

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In March, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that researchers found the remains of Industry in the Gulf of Mexico (noted in yellow).

NOAA Ocean Exploration

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The ship sank to its final resting place 6,000 feet below sea level after a violent storm ripped its mast and hull apart in 1836.

186 years later, all the wooden remains of Industry have deteriorated.

NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2022 ROV and Mapping Shakedown

But significant pieces, such as a cast iron stove called a tryworks, are still intact. Tryworks were used on whaling ships to convert whale blubber into oil.

NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2022 ROV and Mapping Shakedown


“That there were so few artifacts on board was another big piece of evidence it was Industry. We knew it was salvaged before it sank.”

NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2022 ROV and Mapping Shakedown

Remarkably, the entire crew of Industry survived.

They were rescued by another whaling ship, Elizabeth, and safely returned to their home port in New England.

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Many of the crew members were Native American, African American, and of mixed descent.

Finding the ship’s remains offers a window into the experiences of historically marginalized peoples in the whaling industry.

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The ship also has a connection to a significant mariner, philanthropist, and abolitionist, Paul Cuffe, who was of African American and Wampanoag Indian descent.

Cuffe’s son was a navigator on board Industry, and his son-in-law was one of the officers on the whaling ship.

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“This 19th-century whaling ship will help us learn about the lives of the Black and Native American mariners and their communities, as well as the immense challenges they faced on land and at sea.”

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