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Wreckage of 207-year-old whaling ship found on seafloor of Gulf of Mexico

The ship, called Industry, was hunting whales when a strong storm snapped its masts and opened its hull to the sea on May 26, 1836.
An anchor from the 1836 shipwreck site of the brig called Industry
An anchor at the site of the shipwreck in 1836 of the brig called Industry in the Gulf of Mexico.NOAA Ocean Exploration via AP

A whaling ship that sank nearly two centuries ago after it was damaged in a storm was recently found on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

The ship, called Industry, was hunting whales when a strong storm snapped its masts and opened its hull to the sea on May 26, 1836. Crew members were picked up at sea by another whaling ship and safely returned to Westport, Massachusetts, NOAA said in a news release, citing an 1836 article.

Industry, a 64-foot long two-masted wooden brig built in 1815, sank to the seafloor.

The wreckage wasn't discovered until last month, when a team aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer piloted a remotely operated vehicle to search an area first spotted by an energy company in 2011 and briefly viewed by an autonomous vehicle in 2017, the news release says.

NOAA, which worked with partners in the discovery, said finding the wreckage gives a glimpse into a time when descendants of slaves and Native Americans served as essential crew members in one of the country’s oldest industries.

"Black and Native American history is American history, and this critical discovery serves as an important reminder of the vast contributions Black and Native Americans have made to our country," Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves said in a statement. “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.”

NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said the discovery will help tell the "story of how people of color succeeded as captains and crew members in the nascent American whaling industry of the early 1800s."

"The discovery reflects how African Americans and Native Americans prospered in the ocean economy despite facing discrimination and other injustices," Spinrad said. "It is also an example of how important partnerships of federal agencies and local communities are to uncovering and documenting our nation’s maritime history.”

Researchers said lists of crews from other voyages showed that Black people and Native Americans were among those who worked as crew members and officers on the vessels. Industry was found to be connected to Paul Cuffe, a mariner and entrepreneur whose father was a freed slave and whose mother was a Wampanoag Indian, the news release says.

Cuffe began whaling as a teenager and went on to become a merchant, a shipbuilder and a abolitionist. His son William Cuffe worked as a navigator on Industry. The elder Cuffe's son-in-law, Pardon Cook, was an officer on the vessel and is believed to have made the most whaling voyages of any Black person in American history, according to the release.

"The news of this discovery is exciting, as it allows us to explore the early relationships of the men who worked on these ships, which is a lesson for us today as we deal with diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace," said Carl J. Cruz, a New Bedford, Massachusetts-based independent historian and a descendent of the family of Paul Cuffe.