A shipwreck believed to be that of Captain James Cook’s HMS Endeavour is being eaten by shipworms in its resting place off the United States coastline.
Dr Reuben Shipway, Lecturer in Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth, has just returned from Rhode Island having been able to dive to the submerged wreck where it was scuttled in 1778.
However, what is left of its timber frame – estimated to be less than 15% of the original structure – is gradually being eaten away by both shipworms and another crustacean called gribbles.
By analysing one of the salvaged timbers under microscopes at Harvard University, Dr Shipway was for the first time able to identify the particular species present at the wreck site – Teredo navalis, commonly called the naval shipworm.
That is a commonly found local species, and not the exotic ones researchers working to preserve the wreck had hoped to find and which might have suggested the vessel could have once been to the Pacific.
Dr Shipway also discovered that the shipworms’ stomachs still contained quantities of the wreck they had consumed that day.