of the Portland Wreck Confirmed by NOAA: Famed steamship rests
in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
August 29, 2002
Anne Smrcina, 781-545-8026 x204
The U.S. Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) today confirmed the final resting place
of New England's most sought after and mysterious wreck, the steamship
Portland. All 192 passengers and crew were lost in the Nov. 27,
1898 storm. The wreck is located within NOAA's Stellwagen Bank
National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Massachusetts.
a late July and early August joint research mission, NOAA's Stellwagen
Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the National Undersea Research
Center at the University of Connecticut mapped and shot video
of the wreck lost in the "Portland Gale of 1898." The video and
side-scan images from the mission provide visual documentation
to earlier work by American Underwater Search and Survey.
"We are excited to be able to bring some closure to one of New
England's most mysterious shipwrecks," said Dr. Craig MacDonald,
NOAA's Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent.
"The story of the Steamship Portland and its fatal last run from
Boston to Portland, Maine has intrigued maritime historians for
years due to the wide-ranging reported sightings of the ship during
the storm. This mission allows us to start putting some answers
to the questions about its loss."
location of the wreck within the Sanctuary's boundaries provides
protection unavailable in other federal waters off Massachusetts.
Sanctuary regulations prohibit moving, removing or injuring, or
any attempt to move, remove, or injure, any submerged historical
or cultural resources, including artifacts and pieces from shipwrecks.
Anyone violating this regulation is subject to civil penalties
the Sanctuary has been most associated as a site for whales and
whale watching, it also serves as a steward of the submerged historical
and cultural resources within its boundaries," said Sanctuary
Superintendent Craig MacDonald. "We are extremely proud that our
first dedicated mission to search and explore has produced such
exciting results. Future missions hold promise for similarly rewarding
expedition to confirm the location and identity of the Portland
involved many organizations and a range of technologies. Discovery
of the wreck site was first reported in 1989 by a team from a
Massachusetts firm that specializes in locating lost objects at
sea. John Fish and Arnold Carr of American Underwater Search and
Survey announced their find but were unable to produce high quality
photographs for evaluation and verification.
of a high quality map of the region by the U.S. Geological Survey,
using multi-beam and side-scan sonar technologies, indicated more
than 50 anomalies in the Sanctuary, including a target at the
Fish/Carr site. The detailed map allowed scientists and marine
archaeologists to deploy other imaging equipment to get more detailed
close-up views on the July and August research cruises.
"Side-scan images from the Research Vessel (R/V) Connecticut and
the NOAA Ship Ferrel showed that the wreck sits upright on the
seafloor, with its hull largely intact but much of its superstructure
gone," said primary investigator Ben Cowie-Haskell of the Sanctuary.
Wreckage from the vessel found along Cape Cod beaches in the days
after its loss included pieces from its upper decks. "All passengers
and crew were lost, but the exact number has never been determined
due to the lack of a passenger list on shore," said Haskell. "The
latest estimate is 192 individuals lost, with only 38 bodies recovered
as they washed up on Massachusetts beaches between Truro and Monomoy."
operated vehicle (ROV) operations from the R/V Connecticut in
July produced high quality video footage of the wreck that showed
some of the distinctive features of this type of coastal passenger
steamship, including a steam release vent, rudder assembly, paddle
guard, paddle wheel hub, and overall length. The observation of
these features positively identifies this wreck as the Portland
as there are no other coastal steamers of this type reported to
have been lost in Massachusetts Bay.
and colorful marine growth, including anemones, tunicates and
sponges, cover much of the ship; and cod, redfish, cusk and other
fish swim about the wreck. The ROV was able to make these close-up
inspections due to the installation of a dynamic positioning system
on board the ship which allowed for precision maneuvering, according
to Ivar Babb, Director of the National Undersea Research Center
at the University of Connecticut.
artifacts displaying the ship's name could not be found, a team
of independent marine archaeologists confirmed the identification
based on the evidence provided by the side-scan and video images.
designated the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine
Sanctuary in 1992 as "an area of special national significance."
Virtually the size of the state of Rhode Island, the Sanctuary
stretches between Cape Ann and Cape Cod in federal waters off
of Massachusetts. The Sanctuary is renowned as a major feeding
area for marine mammals, particularly humpback whales, and supports
an ecosystem of diverse wildlife.
National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase the public
awareness of America's maritime heritage by conducting scientific
research, monitoring, exploration, and educational programs. Today,
13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square
miles of AmericaÕs ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural
resources. For more information about the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen
Bank National Marine Sanctuary, please contact the Sanctuary at
(781) 545-8026 or visit http://stellwagen.nos.noaa.gov.
National Ocean Service (NOAA Ocean Service) manages the National
Marine Sanctuary Program and is dedicated to exploring, understanding,
conserving, and restoring the nationÕs coasts and oceans. NOAA
Ocean Service balances environmental protection with economic
prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation,
supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats, and
mitigating coastal hazards. To learn more about NOAA Ocean Service
and the National Marine Sanctuary Program, please visit http://www.nos.noaa.gov.
National Undersea Research Program (NURP) funds six research centers
around the country at major universities. A key strength of NURP
is its partnership with the nation's science community. Each of
the regional centers is funded by a grant from NOAA. Research
projects are chosen based upon peer review. The open, competitive
nature of the process ensures that a variety of high quality science
projects are undertaken.
Center for the North Atlantic and Great Lakes is located at the
University of Connecticut at Avery Point. This center supports
and conducts research in the waters off the northeast coast of
the U.S. including the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, the Southern
New England Bight including Long Island Sound, and the Great Lakes.
centers in NURP include Other centers in NURP include The National
Undersea Research Center for the Caribbean region which is located
at the Caribbean Marine Research Center (CMRC) in Tequesta, Florida;
The National Undersea Research Center for Hawaii and Western Pacific
located at the University of Hawaii with the research program
conducted by the University's Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory
(HURL); The National Undersea Research Center for the Middle Atlantic
Bight located at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences
(IMCS) at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
National Undersea Research Center for the Southeastern United
States and Gulf of Mexico is located at the University of North
Carolina at Wilmington and conducts research in the South Atlantic
Bight (North Carolina to Florida), Florida Keys, and the Gulf
of Mexico. The National Undersea Research Center for the West
Coast and Polar Regions is located at the University of Alaska-FairbankÕs
(UAF) School of Fisheries and Ocean Services. The region served
by the Center includes a vast area along the western margin of
North America (70% of the U.S. continental shelf area) and supports
a major portion of the annual U.S. fisheries take and production
of mineral resources. For more information about NURP, please
from the Summer 2002 mission can be found at the NOAA public affairs
page on the NOAA web site.