U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear. Image courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Shipwreck of Famed US Revenue Cutter Bear Located Off Nova Scotia

Mike Schuler
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October 15, 2021

After decades of searching, researchers from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Coast Guard have located the underwater shipwreck of the former U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear.

The wreck of the Bear, which was lost at sea in 1963, is located about 90 miles south of Cape Sable in Nova Scotia.

The shipwreck was one of two targets located during a 2019 expedition on board the USCG’s medium-endurance cutter Bear that NOAA researchers determined warranted further exploration. USCG and NOAA teams returned to the area earlier this year on the USCG’s ocean-going buoy tender Sycamore, this time with an advanced remotely operated vehicle (ROV) equipped with high-resolution underwater video cameras to to document the “unidentified wreck”.

The team was able to collect evidence to positively identify the wreck. A team of historians and archaeologists from the partner agencies responsible for review the data came to consensus that they are “reasonably certain” that the wreckage is indeed U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear.

A side scan sonar of the Bear shipwreck. Credit: NOAA/USCG

Considered one of the most historically significant ships in U.S. and Coast Guard history, USRC Bear was built in Scotland in 1874 and purchased by the U.S. government in 1884. Bear was originally put into service by the U.S. Navy during the Arctic search for the Greely Expedition, where she earned her initial fame as the vessel that rescued the few survivors of that expedition. In 1885, Bear was transferred from the Treasury Department for service in the Arctic as a Revenue Cutter, where she patrolled for 41 years.

Between 1886-1895, Bear was commanded by “Hell Roaring Mike” Healy, a name that continues to hold significance within the service. USCGC Healy was commissioned in 1999 and named in his honor. Healy recently completed a transit of the Arctic’s Northwest Passage, continuing the Arctic tradition.

After serving in the Greenland Patrols during World War II, the Bear was decommissioned in 1944 and later lost at sea while being towed to Philadelphia by a private party in 1963.

Researchers have been searching for the Bear since at least 1979. In 2007, a search was coordinated by the U.S. Navy but was ultimately unsuccessful. In recent years, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard have teamed up with other partners to locate the wreck site.

Operating under the Department of Treasury, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service was established by Congress in 1790 and later merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service to form the United States Coast Guard.

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