Stellwagen Bank Shipwrecks

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Map depicting the location and extent of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
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Map depicting the location and extent of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (NOAA SBNMS)

Postcard image of schooner Paul Plamer
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Colorized postcard image of Paul Palmer, unloading coal in Portsmouth, NH. (NOAA SBNMS)

R/V TIOGA at the dock, preparing for the first SBNMS shipwreck survey, March 2005
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WHOI Research Vessel TIOGA at the dock, preparing for the first SBNMS shipwreck survey, March 2005 (Brendan Foley, WHOI)

SeaBED AUV deployment
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Deploying the SeaBED AUV off the R/V TIOGA, Stellwagen Bank, March 2005 (WHOI)

'Ghost' trawl net on Paul Palmer windlass
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Various fishing nets wrapped around the windlass on the wreck of Paul Palmer. There are remnants of at least two trawl nets and one gill net evident in the picture. (WHOI, Paul Palmer 2005)

Related Links

» Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Website for the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Cultural Resource Management and Technology Development

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) contains several historic shipwrecks, generally referred to as 'submerged cultural resources'. For the SBNMS archaeologists and administrators to manage these sites most effectively, the wrecks must be properly documented. At a minimum, this requires accurate mapping and collecting photographs over each wreck site. More complex data products such as photomosaics are even better management tools. We have found that the photomosaic is a very effective format for data displays, since mosaics provide an overall high-resolution view of the site that is otherwise impossible to achieve.

Scientists at WHOI's Deep Submergence Laboratory and SBNMS's archaeologists and cultural resource managers enjoy a symbiotic collaborative relationship. Working together on the sites within SBNMS benefits everyone involved. For WHOI scientists and engineers looking to test improvements to our vehicles and methods, the sites are close to home. Working at Stellwagen allows us to extend the capabilities of underwater vehicles and sensors at low logistical cost. The lessons we learn by working on the Stellwagen sites are transferred to shipwreck projects elsewhere in the world, and to AUV projects for other sciences.

For the cultural resource managers, our collaborative projects deliver to SBNMS what they need in the first order: data products to assist in the interpretation and management of the shipwrecks. Often the collaborative projects involve cost-sharing, making it easier and less expensive for both groups to conduct surveys and experiments. Beyond that, the Stellwagen archaeologists help push the leading edge of archaeology in deep water. They work with many other institutions' scientists and engineers, testing a wide variety of underwater vehicles and systems. Perhaps more than any other cultural resource managers globally, SBNMS personnel understand the promise and limitations of advanced underwater technologies. They feed their observations and analyses back to their parent organization, NOAA. Senior-level administrators within that government organization can then make judgments about future resource allocation.

The wreck of Paul Palmer

The first site investigated by the collaborative team was the wreck of the collier Paul Palmer. The ship was a five-masted schooner built in Waldoboro, Maine in 1902 and operated by J.S. Winslow and Company. After a career carrying coal along the east coast of Canada and the United States, she burned to the waterline and sank off Cape Cod in June 1913. She was carrying no cargo at the time.

We chose this wreck as our first experimental site for AUV survey for a variety of reasons. Foremost in our minds was finding a suitably non-threatening site to exercise the SeaBED AUV. The Paul Palmer wreck met that criterion, as the remains lie on a benign seafloor without any nearby hazards or radical terrain changes. The wreck itself has only a meter or two of vertical relief, meaning there isn't much to snag the AUV. The site is not too far offshore, allowing easy day trips with the new WHOI fast research vessel, Tioga. Tioga is capable of 20 knot speeds; during survey days we could catch two meals ashore and sleep on dry land while still putting in long hours on site.

Secondly, we know a great deal about Paul Palmer, including her layout and dimensions (276 feet x 44 feet x 24 feet; 2193 tons). This makes interpretation of the site much more straightforward than if we chose a mystery wreck. In fact, there is no mystery at all surrounding Paul Palmer: in addition to several written sources about her, construction pictures exist of the vessel, as do images of her launch day and working life. Our photographic documentation of the wreck will complete the story of the vessel.


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Last updated July 28, 2005
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