NOAA, Navy Continue Hunt For Lost Civil War Submarine Alligator

Jim Boyle



NOAA, with support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), will return this week to the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” to continue the hunt for the Alligator, the U.S. Navy’s first submarine. The joint expedition will take place Sept. 9-12 off Cape Hatteras, N.C., where the Civil War-era vessel was lost during a fierce storm in 1863.

“NOAA is proud to partner with the Office of Naval Research in the hunt for the Alligator,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Through the hunt for the Alligator, we are expanding our knowledge of both the nation’s marine resources and rich maritime history.”

Based in Ocracoke, N.C., the 2005 survey is part of an ongoing effort by NOAA, ONR and partners to solve the mystery of the Alligator’s fate, while promoting scientific and historical research, education and ocean literacy. Researchers will deploy a robot sub and metal detector and other remote sensing equipment from ONR’s 108-ft. YP-679 Afloat Lab to investigate targets identified during a NOAA-ONR survey in August 2004 and a NOAA survey of opportunity in May 2005.

“I'm delighted to report that some of the Navy's finest technologists from our Naval Warfare Center in Panama City will be joining us this year,” said ONR spokesperson Daniel S. Dayton. “These are experts who specialize in finding objects on the ocean floor. They will be using acoustics, magnetic, and electro-optic systems. These technologies are utilized in mine warfare and diving operations. These technologies have been used for other search projects to find a black box from a plane crash (Swiss Air off of Halifax) and to search for drowned victims."

In December 2003, NOAA and ONR unveiled the only known blueprints of the sub, which was designed for the U.S. Navy by French inventor Brutus de Villeroi. The 2004 expedition and discovery of the blueprints will be featured in a Science Channel documentary, “The Hunt for the USS Alligator,” airing on October 5.

“The hunt for the Alligator combines history, mystery and technology,” said Daniel J. Basta, director of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program, which houses NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program. “Through the hunt for the Alligator, we are working not only to unlock the secrets of the deep and the past, but also to inspire the next generation of explorers.”

Launched in 1862, the Alligator represented a significant leap forward in naval engineering. Among the sub’s most notable features was an airlock designed to allow a diver to exit the vessel while submerged and place an explosive charge on an enemy ship. The Alligator’s design also included an air purification system. Both are standard components of modern submarines. In April 1863, while being towed south to participate in the Union attack on Charleston, S.C., the Alligator was lost in a storm off Cape Hatteras, and never seen again.

More information about the hunt for the Alligator, including daily expedition logs, mission plans, and resources for teachers, is available at

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and nearly 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

ONR manages science and technology for the Navy and Marine Corps. ONR sponsors basic and applied research in oceanography, advanced materials, sensors, robotics, biomedical science and technology, electronics, surveillance, mathematics, manufacturing technology, information science, advanced combat systems and technologies for ships, submarines, aircraft, and ground vehicles.

Jim Boyle



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