Exploring Iconic Battle of Midway Shipwrecks

From September 8-12, 2023, an interdisciplinary, interagency, and international team led by Ocean Exploration Trust aboard Exploration Vessel Nautilus had the honor and privilege to conduct in-depth archaeological assessments of three World War II aircraft carriers lost during the Battle of Midway. Our exploration resulted in the first visual survey of Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) Akagi 赤城, the first detailed views of United States Ship Yorktown since it was first located 25 years ago, and a comprehensive survey of IJN Kaga 加賀. These historically significant wrecks were explored in their final resting places within Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, the largest protected area in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world. 

Archaeologists from Japan, the U.S., and over 100 experts around the world were connected to ship operations via telepresence technology, helping guide the mission and providing valuable real-time interpretations throughout the surveys. Each dive was launched and closed with protocol ceremonies to honor this place and all who lost their lives in ways that reflected their significance to Kānaka ʻOiwi (Native Hawaiian), Japanese, and U.S. military families and communities. These historic, noninvasive, visual survey dives were conducted during the E/V Nautilus Ala ʻAumoana Kai Uli expedition, a 27-day NOAA-funded mission to explore never-before-seen deep-water habitats to collect baseline data needed to support management in the most remote and northwestern section of PMNM. The surveys of the ship’s final resting places were aimed at documenting these historically significant wrecks, examining their condition, and honoring all those who lost their lives on both sides of the battle. 

The Battle of Midway surveys were made possible by the expertise, support, and collaboration of many partners including Ocean Exploration Trust, NOAA Ocean Exploration, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, SEARCH, Inc., U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, International Midway Memorial Foundation, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the State of Hawaiʻi, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, University of Maryland, University of Rhode Island, University of Hawaiʻi, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Air/Sea Heritage Foundation, and Japanese archaeological colleagues from Teikyo University, Tokai University, and Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology. 

Learn more about this expedition funded by NOAA Ocean Exploration via the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute.