2021 Bear Expedition

Expedition Features

The essays below will help you to understand the goals and objectives of the mission and provide additional context and information about the places being explored and the science, tools, and technologies being used.

  • Getting Underway

    by Bradley W. Barr

    Just before what looks to be a beautiful sunrise, we are closing in on the location of the “unidentified wreck.” The past two days have been spent loading and installing the highly sophisticated remotely operated vehicle (ROV) system and making final preparations for the operations to begin today.

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  • Expedition Plan

    For nearly two decades, the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries’ Maritime Heritage Program, the U.S. Coast Guard, and a number of academic research partners have been engaged in a search for the final resting place of U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear.

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  • Why We Search for U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear

    by Bradley W. Barr

    The Arctic is a place that sparks the imagination. Its history is told in epic stories, compelling narratives of adventure and disaster in a landscape of ice and snow. The enduring Inuit people call the Arctic “home.” But for most of us, the Arctic is the setting for stories of daring exploits of explorers who confronted the challenges of a hostile and unforgiving environment, sometimes never to return, and the hunt for Bowhead whales in the golden age of Yankee whaling. Our perceptions of the Arctic are largely based on this rich history, but no longer is it the place it once was. Now warming two-times faster than any other place on the planet, the Arctic is facing its own challenges of warmer temperatures and receding ice. It is now more aptly described as a “new ocean” rather than the “kingdom of ice” it once was. This new “Arctic reality” not only has given rise to new management challenges as accessibility to its rich resources expands, but also makes the need to remember and preserve its rich history even more urgent.

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  • Search for the Bear, 1979-2019

    by William H. Thiesen

    The Bear’s story did not end with the sinking of the cutter. Instead, a new chapter of the cutter’s history had begun and, within about 15 years of its sinking, the search for Bear was on.

    In the spring of 1979, a search group formed around 11 Coast Guard Academy cadets; four advisors; and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Harold Edgerton, inventor of side-scan sonar. The search effort took two weeks and relied on the Coast Guard buoy tender Conifer as a test platform for the revolutionary new technology. The team used accounts from the Coast Guard pilots that overflew Bear and the skipper of the tug Irving Birch from the day Bear was lost. Project highlights included the first practical use of side-scan sonar, the Coast Guard’s new LORAN-C navigation system, and the integration of the two into an underwater search. The team also used the relatively new technology of videotape documentation.

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  • Evolution of Pixel

    by Evan Kovacs

    Over the years, our team has been asked to survey wrecks all over the world. Our practice is to employ the best tools that budget and platforms allow for all aspects of the job, whether it be diver, robot, or even submersible. More and more often, the primary tool for initial exploration and planning has become a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). ROVs are certainly not new, but their size and drop in price is making them a much more integrated part of the survey process, even in shallower SCUBA-accessible depth waters.

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  • Arctic Cutter Bear—“A Symbol for All the Service Represents”

    by William H. Thiesen, Ph.D.

    The Bear is more than just a famous ship; she is a symbol for all the service represents—for steadfastness, for courage, and for constant readiness to help men and vessels in distress.
    —Captain Stephen Evans, The United States Coast Guard, 1790-1915

    As the quote above indicates, United States Revenue Cutter Bear’s story reflects the U.S. Coast Guard’s core values. This extraordinary ship, on which legends were made, remains the most famous cutter in Coast Guard history.

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  • BEAR in Cinema: The Brief Film Career of U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear

    by Brad Barr

    One of the more colorful lives of Bear, however, was her brief service as a “movie star.” The use of the ship (at the time re-named Bear of Oakland) as an at-sea film location for the 1930 adaptation of the Jack London novel, The Sea Wolf, was, at best, fleeting stardom, but a notable chapter in the long history of the ship.

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  • The “Honorable and Ancient” Cutter Bear: A History

    The “Honorable and Ancient” Cutter Bear: A History

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  • The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1919

    by Nora L. Chidlow

    As the world returned to some normalcy following World War I, the United States Coast Guard was readjusting to its peacetime duties. The service remained under Navy control until 28 August 1919, when all Coast Guard cutters were returned to the Treasury Department. For cutters assigned to the Bering Sea Patrol in Alaska and its regions, normal duties included checking vessel cargo for illegal fur trade, counting fish cannery employees for the 1920 census, providing medical assistance to the population, including Alaskan natives, and acting as representatives of the government.

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  • Bertholf--Second Founder of the Coast Guard

    by William H. Thiesen, Ph.D.

    Commodore Bertholf served the United States in its Revenue Cutter and Coast Guard Service from early manhood, never failing a call to duty, no matter what the danger, always acting in a notably distinguished and at times heroic manner, as evidenced in the especial award to him by Congress of its Gold Medal of Honor. He finally reached the highest command in the Coast Guard and retained to the last his vital interest in the cause of that service.

    American Bureau of Shipping, 1921

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  • David Jarvis, the Early Bering Sea Patrol and the Famous Overland Relief Expedition

    by William H. Thiesen, Ph.D.

    If you are subjected to miserable discomforts, or even if you suffer, it must be regarded as all right and simply a part of life; like sailors, you must never dwell too much on the dangers or sufferings, lest others question your courage.

    In the above quote, Revenue Cutter Service officer David Henry Jarvis wrote in his diary journaling the Overland Relief Expedition, considered one of the most spectacular rescues in the history of the Arctic. Jarvis’s exploits in Alaska and the Arctic Circle made him one of the Service’s best-known officers of the famous Bering Sea Patrol.

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For additional information on the history of U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear, visit the Background Information page from the 2019 Search for the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear expedition.