GULFPORT -- Out of the shadows of the deep it slowly appeared. The railing, and what looked like cargo studded with coral, emerged to the crew aboard of exploration vessel Nautilus.
In the Gulf of Mexico for a number of missions under the umbrella The New America, the Ocean Exploration Trust identified the USS Peterson (DD 969), a destroyer built at Ingalls' Pascagoula Shipyard. About 10 years ago, the U.S. Navy sank the decommissioned ship as part of a weapons test. Its exact location was unknown until July 7, when the Nautilus pinpointed its watery grave.
The destroyer's identification is part of the mission of the Nautilus' crew, led by Robert Ballard, world famous for discovering the Titanic, among other wrecks.
Between July 6 and July 14, the crew explored a number brine pools and deepwater coral reefs in addition to the wrecks.
Sunken German U-boat
Arguably the expedition's most exciting moments for history buffs came when the crew probed the wreckage of German U-boat U-166 -- the only known U-boat sunk in the Gulf of Mexico -- as well as several of the U-boat's targets, such as the SS Gulf Penn and SS Robert E. Lee.
Spokeswoman Susan Poulton said the crew already knew the German sub's location, but returned to explore
further with Hercules and Argus, two remotely operated vehicles controlled from aboard the Nautilus.
"To our knowledge, this particular wreck site has not been mapped with 3-D mapping," Poulton said Tuesday while Nautilus was docked at the Port of Gulfport. "Our mapping team went in and did surveys of the area, which will help our archaeologists better understand what happened and how she sunk.
"We have the historical references, but now we actually have the physical evidence and the physical forensic archaeology."
Poulton said the Robert E. Lee could be seen with a torpedo in it, and the U-boat was split in two by a depth charge that sank the sub and its 52-man crew. Most the passengers aboard the Robert E. Lee, which was carrying survivors from other U-boat attacks, survived.
Discovering the unknown
Poulton said discovering the unknown -- such as the Peterson -- often provides the biggest thrill.
"So little of the ocean has been explored to begin with, photographed even less, mapped even less. So, you're talking about .0000 (percent)," she said. "Some of these scientists have spent their lives studying organisms and they've never seen a live sample."
The Nautilus will head back out to the Gulf on Thursday as part of the Gulf Integrated Spill Response Consortium to better understand and predict the fundamental behavior of petroleum fluids in the ocean.