Footage Shows 200-Year-Old Whaler Shipwreck Discovered off Florida Coast

The wreck of a 19th century whaling ship has been found in a deep-sea dive off the coast of Florida.

Video showing an anchor, ballast, bottles and a stove resting on the ocean floor was released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on February 25.

The rusted iron anchor can be seen resting on a mound thought to trace the outline of the shipwreck. A second anchor broken into two pieces was also filmed at the scene of the wreck.

"That's amazing. I've never seen an anchor like that snapped in half," a NOAA crew member commenting live on the video said.

"That's what we call a bad day at sea," another said.

The footage was taken as part of an NOAA expedition to the Gulf of Mexico and the western Straits of Florida. The purpose of the expedition is to test out its remote operating vehicles and mapping systems ahead of its ocean exploration projects scheduled for later in the year.

Finding a 200-year-old shipwreck of a whaling boat was not part of the mission.

The hunting of whales was a massive commercial industry during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Whales were hunted for their meat, blubber and the oil in their bodies, which had a variety of uses in the period, from lamp oil to soap. Ambergris—a waxy substance found in the bodies of sperm whales used to make perfumes—was also sought by whalers.

The practice drove several species of whales to the brink of extinction before it was banned in many countries. The U.S. banned the practice in 1972 under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The NOAA crew identified the wreck as dating between 1800 and 1840. They said most of the wooden structure of the 19th century ship had likely already disintegrated.

NOAA image of Florida straights shipwreck
NOAA image of Florida straights shipwreck. Researchers identified the wreck as early 19th century and said they believed it was a whaler. NOAA

Whaling was a lucrative but dangerous business for the sailors involved. Whaling ships and the small skiffs used to chase the animals could easily get "stove" or broken up and sunk during the hunts. Sperm whales also learnt to attack whalers by ramming their boats.

The whaling industry in the U.S. was primarily based in New England, but eventually expanded to include Florida's coasts, where right whales were once plentiful. They were called "right" whales by whalers because their slow speed and abundance of oil, plus the fact they floated once killed, made them ideal targets.

The practice diminished rapidly in the U.S. after the commercialization of oil, which was first successfully drilled in 1859. Whaling is still legal in several countries including Japan, Norway and Iceland, although Iceland has announced it will ban the practice from 2024.

Many species of whales are still threatened or recovering from the widespread whaling of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The NOAA ROV and Mapping Shakedown mission is running dives in the region through March 3.