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Ghost Ships off the Golden Gate

Scientists are using remotely operated vehicles and cameras to study more than three hundred shipwrecks in the waters off San Friancisco Bay in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.


In the waters off San Francisco Bay… in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary… lie hundreds of mysteries.  In the waters near the entrance to the Golden Gate, there are an estimated 300 shipwrecks – just waiting to be discovered.

These shipwrecks span a broad time range, from the late 1500s to modern times, and can serve as important archaeological sites.  Unlike carefully constructed sites such as graves or temples, shipwrecks are accidental and therefore show the past as it really was, and link the past to the present.

A two-year project is now underway to better understand some of these three hundred wrecks.  Scientists are using remotely operated vehicles, cameras, and sensing equipment to locate, identify, and document them.  

The project’s first mission has already been a success, with the discovery of several shipwrecks.  The first: the SS Selja, a steamer that sank in a collision in 1910.  The second, identified through a multibeam sonar scan: the 1863 clipper ship Noonday, obscured by mud and silt on the ocean floor.

In addition to these new discoveries, researchers also completed the first sonar scans of two other wrecks – the tankers Frank H. Buck and Lyman Stewart, the engines of which are visible at low tide in the waters of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

This project is scheduled to continue through 2016 (this video was produced in 2015) . There is a vast array of knowledge and information that can be gathered and studied.  From a shipwreck’s possible connection to important historical events, to lessons on how currents, weather, technology, and human error can damage the marine environment, to new biological habitats that can form on the wrecks. Through the study, protection and promotion of this diverse maritime legacy, we can learn more about our shared past.