Members of the Canadian Armed Forces have captured new underwater footage of a 19th-century merchant ship that has been largely undisturbed on the High Arctic seabed for 161 years.

The Breadalbane became trapped and then sank in the Barrow Strait near Nunavut’s Beechey Island in 1853 while attempting to deliver supplies to the search for Captain John Franklin and his lost expedition.

The three-masted ship was built in Glasgow 10 years earlier.

“It’s rare to have such a detailed view of a shipwreck from 1853,” says Jonathan Moore, senior underwater archeologist with Parks Canada, in a news release.

The military first sent cameras underwater at the site, about 120 kilometres east of Resolute, Nunavut, in 2012.

This footage was captured during six days of diving beneath thick sea ice using multiple remotely operated vehicles.

Diving for the Breadalbane

Canadian Armed Forces divers, working on the sea ice near Gascoyne Inlet, Nunavut, spent six days using remotely operated underwater vehicles to capture footage from the merchant ship Breadalbane, which sank in the High Arctic in 1853. (Master Seaman Peter Reed, Underwater Imaging Dept. FDU (A), CFB Shearwater, N.S.)

It shows the exploration team in its ice tent preparing equipment for submersion.

As the bright green and black-trimmed exploration device is lowered into the water, viewers can see its lights and the cable connecting it to the surface.

The device, made by SeaBotix Inc., is then lowered to the site of the ship on the ocean floor.

As it moves around the Breadalbane, viewers can see the barnacle-encrusted hull, an anchor lying on the ocean floor and indications of where the ship's hull may have been repaired in better days.  

National historic site

The Breadalbane is the most northerly known shipwreck and a National Historic Site of Canada.

As the ship became pressed into pack ice, it was emptied of its supplies and personal effects.

The crew escaped unharmed.

The Canadian Armed Forces was in the area as part of Operation Nunalivut, an annual exercise that brings military personnel to the High Arctic to test equipment and skill sets.

The government of Nunavut and Natural Resources Canada’s Polar Continental Shelf Program were also involved in this year’s operation, which is led by Joint Task Force North.