Seaworms leaving Endeavour’s timbers honeycombed, says expert

Seaworms known as the termites of the sea are attacking what is thought to be the wreck of Captain James Cook’s flagship the HMB Endeavour, leaving timbers honeycombed, according to a marine biologist.

Marine invertebrate expert Reuben Shipway, based in the United Kingdom, noticed the damage as soon as he dived on what remains of the wreck in the murky bottom of Newport Harbour, The Boston Globe is reporting.

A maritime museum diver at what is believed to be the wreck of HMB Endeavour.

Shipworms had torn through the timber, carving a labyrinth of tunnels leaving what looked like a honeycomb.

Shipway said the exposed pieces of wood on the harbour floor were being eaten from within by a species known as Teredo navalis, or naval shipworm. “That damage is ongoing,” he said. “The shipworms’ guts are full of wood.”

He said there was also damage happening from the outside and that he had found evidence that a crustacean species called gribbles had eaten at the wood. About 10 to 15 percent of the ship that may be Endeavour is estimated to remain, the report says.

Teredo navalis, the shipworm, is a species of saltwater clam, a marine bivalve mollusc in the family Tereninidae.

Teredo navalis, the shipworm, is a species of saltwater clam, a marine bivalve mollusc in the family Tereninidae.Credit:Getty

The report is the latest episode in a stoush between the Australian National Maritime Museum and its research partner, the Rhode Island Maritime Archaeology Project. In February, the Museum’s then chief executive Kevin Sumption said that the wreck was positively identified as the Endeavour. But the Project’s lead researcher, Kathy Abbass, promptly dismissed the claim as a “breach of contract” and “premature”.

She said the jury was still out and that their conclusions would be driven by proper scientific process rather than “Australian emotions or politics”. She is expected to release her findings shortly, possibly this month.

Daryl Karp, the museum’s new director and chief executive, told the Herald last month the museum was now even more confident the wreck was the Endeavour.

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