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Story highlights

The two ships got stuck in the Chukchi Sea in the 19th century

The team that found the ship says climate change may have helped in the search

(CNN) —  

Archaeologists have discovered parts of two 19th-century whaling ships in the Arctic, thanks to sonar technology, intrepid divers and … climate change?

“With less ice in the Arctic as a result of climate change, archaeologists now have more access to potential shipwreck sites than ever before,” according to a news release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The NOAA team discovered the hulls of two whaling ships in the Chukchi Sea about 144 years after they and 31 others sank off the northern coast of Alaska.

They’re believed to be the remains of ships that were trapped by ice in September of 1871. After getting stuck, the ships slowly deteriorated, leaving more than 1,200 whalers stranded.

The search area
M. Lawrence/NOAA
The search area

None of them died, and they were eventually rescued, but the incident is considered one of the major triggers for the demise of whaling in the United States, according to NOAA.

“Until now, no one had found definitive proof of any of the lost fleet beneath the water,” said Brad Barr, a NOAA archaeologist and project co-director. “This exploration provides an opportunity to write the last chapter of this important story of American maritime heritage and also bear witness to some of the impacts of a warming climate on the region’s environmental and cultural landscape, including diminishing sea ice and melting permafrost.”