NOAA Finds Wreck of a Lost Whaler in the Gulf of Mexico

The iron tryworks of the whaler Industry, along with an anchor (NOAA)

Published Mar 23, 2022 6:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday, NOAA announced the discovery of the wreck of a 200-year-old whaling ship called the Industry, which has been found on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. 

With guidance from scientists on shore, a team aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer piloted a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to explore a suspected wreck site. The location was first spotted by an energy company in 2011, and it was seen briefly by an autonomous vehicle in 2017, but it had never been fully examined.  

With extensive research and the video from the ROV, a team of shoreside scientists led by James Delgado, Ph.D., senior vice president of SEARCH Inc. has confirmed that the wreck is most likely the whaling brig Industry

The Industry was built in 1815 in Westport, Massachusetts, and it hunted whales across the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico for 20 years. Documents show that she was normally crewed by Black, Native American, multiracial and white personnel, reflecting the diversity found in the Massachusetts whaling fleet. She was lost in a storm on May 26, 1836, while hunting for sperm whales more than 70 miles off the mouth of the Mississippi River. 

Delgado, Brennan and Sorset had a strong hunch about the identity of the whale ship prior to the February ROV dive, but they needed a more thorough look. In February, the Okeanos Explorer was in the Gulf of Mexico testing new equipment, and NOAA contacted Delgado to ask for coordinates for the site. ROV pilots from the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration captured high-resolution video to fully document the wreck site. The NOAA team confirmed the shipwreck’s measurements matched those of Industry in historic documents, and they determined that the location of the shipwreck - 72 nautical miles from the last recorded location off the mouth of the Mississippi River - could be attributed to the drift of the abandoned ship in the Gulf of Mexico’s Loop Current. 

“That there were so few artifacts on board was another big piece of evidence it was Industry,” said Sorset. “We knew it was salvaged before it sank.” Another ship responded to Industry's distress and removed 230 barrels of whale oil, parts of the rigging and one of the four anchors before the brig sank.