Barry Clifford


Barry Clifford is one of the world’s best-known undersea explorers, and has been involved in underwater archaeological exploration for virtually his entire adult life.

Between 1974 and 1984, Clifford organized, directed and conducted dive-related work such as underwater construction, oil-spill control, contract sea-rescue and salvage operations, including the M.V. Islander ferry in 1980. He also used historical research, remote-sensing techniques, and underwater surveys to locate numerous shipwrecks off Cape Cod, as well as at “Hellgate” in New York’s East River, the Indian Ocean, and a number of locations in the Caribbean.

After several years of exhaustive research and exploration, Clifford made world headlines in 1984 with his discovery of the pirate shipwreck Whydah wrecked in a storm off Cape Cod in 1717. The Whydah is the only solidly-identified pirate shipwreck ever discovered, and, as of 2010, artifacts from the wreck-site are still being archaeologically excavated during Cape Cod’s brief dive seasons. With over two hundred thousand artifacts recovered, the project has completely revised the world’s understanding of pirates, “…shedding new light on a lost age” (The New York Times March 11, 1997).

The Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources, and other state and federal agencies, have lauded the Whydah Project as “a model for private archaeology”, and the project has been covered in National Geographic magazine and National Geographic Television as part of a “National Geographic Special Event”. Recovery operations are conducted with his 75” vessel Vast Explorer.

With his background as a teacher, Barry Clifford has always emphasized the educational aspects of his work. In 1990, he established a five-year visiting exhibition of Whydah artifacts at The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. In 1996, he established Expedition Whydah Sea-Lab & Learning Center in Provincetown, MA. This museum has proved to be a unique showcase for what underwater exploration can accomplish through careful historical and scientific research. It was the only maritime museum featured by The New York Times in its 2002 special “Museums of America” section.

Artifacts from The Whydah Collection have also been featured as traveling exhibits at such venues as The City Arts Center in Edinburgh Scotland (1995-1996), Explorers Hall of The National Geographic Society in Washington D.C. (1999-2000), The Ubersee Museum in Bremen Germany (1999-2000), and The Statehouse Museum in Boston Massachusetts (2000-2001).

In 2007, a selection of artifacts from the Whydah collection began a major nation-wide traveling exhibition, entitled “Real Pirates” under the auspices of The National Geographic Society, Arts & Exhibitions International and Historic Shipwrecks, Inc. This exhibit has received rave reviews, and has proven extraordinarily popular at venues including The Museum Center in Cincinnati, The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, The Field Museum in Chicago, and Nauticus at Norfolk, Virginia. Over the next five years, it will be visiting such cities as St. Louis, Houston, Denver, Phoenix and Minneapolis.

In 1989, the Project Team located an un-dredged site in Boston’s Inner Harbor with several shipwrecks—and other submerged cultural material—associated with the Boston “Tea Party” and the “Evacuation of Boston” during the American Revolution. In the winter of 1990-1991, underwater surveys for historical shipwreck sites were conducted in 130+ ft. depths in Boston’s Outer Harbor.

Between 1991 and 1994, expeditions were mounted to Panama and Belize that resulted in the discovery of a number of shipwrecks of historical and archaeological importance—including the possible wreck site of the Satisfaction, a shipwreck associated with the notorious pirate Henry Morgan and his invasion of Panama in 1669.

From 1993-1996, under the auspices of the BBC and the Discovery Channel, Clifford directed underwater survey and ROV examinations—in conjunction with Bentech, British Gas, the British Royal Navy and HRM Prince Andrew—for The Blessing of Burnt Island that sank with the royal silver of King Charles I in Scotland’s Firth of Forth in 1633. He then initiated research initiatives and survey operations off Virginia that ultimately resulted in the discovery of a wreck identified as the Spanish treasure galleon La Galga.

In 1998 and 1999 Barry Clifford led two expeditions, under Discovery Channel/BBC-One auspices, to the Isle of Aves off Venezuela, where he discovered nine shipwrecks, wrecked in a 1678 catastrophe that shattered French naval power in the Caribbean.

In 1999 and 2000, Barry Clifford and his Project Team completed three major expeditions to Madagascar, as a Discovery Channel “Quest” initiative. Five shipwreck sites were discovered, including The Adventure Galley (flagship of the infamous William Kidd) and the Dragon, commanded by the pirate William “Billy One-Hand” Condon. Three other shipwreck sites have been tentatively identified as the Ruparrel, The Mocha Frigate, and Great Mahomet (aka. The New Soldado. After discovering and decoding cryptic rock carvings, he then used ground-penetrating radar to explore an apparent tunnel-complex, similar to the Oak Island “Money Pit”, which may have been constructed by late 17th-century pirates.

As a Discovery Channel “Quest” Scholar, his work to locate and identify suspected in-situ remains of the Santa Maria—flagship of Christopher Columbus—was the subject of a May 2004 Discovery Channel documentary “Quest for Columbus”. Also conducted off the Haitian coast were archaeological survey projects which identified four shipwrecks associated with the pirate Henry Morgan, including Morgan’s flagship The Oxford.

Having recently secured renewal of archaeological permits, and an artifact recovery contract, from the government of The Malagasy Republic, preparations for a return visit to Ile Ste. Marie, Madagascar (“the Valley of the Kings of pirate shipwrecks”) are currently underway. The expedition will be the subject of a two-hour documentary by The History Channel.

He has published in magazines and professional journals, as well as six books: The Pirate Prince, (Prentice Hall/Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993), Expedition Whydah (Harper Collins, New York, 1999), The Lost Fleet (Harper Collins, New York, 2000), Return to Treasure Island (Harper Collins, New York, 2003), They Lived to Tell The Tale (The Explorers’ Club 2007) and Real Pirates: The Untold Story…(The National Geographic Society, 2007) as well as a children’s book of the same name (The National Geographic Society, 2007).

His archaeological explorations have been covered in numerous feature articles in The New York Times (including three cover articles of the Science Section), The Chicago Tribune, Variety, The Daily Telegraph, Time, Newsweek, USA Today, People, The Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report, Parade, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Men’s Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Sun-Times, Forbes, Fortune, The London Times, The Scotsman, The Sunday Times, Reader’s Digest, and National Geographic magazine.

He has also been featured on such national and international programs as Good Morning America,  Dateline, National Public Radio, Walter Cronkite at Large, The Voice of America, Sixty Minutes, Sixty Minutes (Australia), David Letterman, a variety of BBC programs (including Tomorrow’s World, Beyond 2000 and Quest), and is a frequent guest on The Today Show.

His work has been the subject of many television documentaries and features as well; including Black Bellamy’s Treasure (PBS), Search for Pirate Gold (Nova). Sea-Raiders (Turner Broadcasting), The Hunt For Amazing Treasures (NBC), Lost Treasure of King Charles I (Discovery Channel), Sea Tales (A&E), Pirates of The Whydah (National Geographic Television), The Lost Fleet (Discovery Channel/BBC-One), Quest For Captain Kidd (Discovery Channel), Quest for Columbus (Discovery Channel), Pirate Ship…Live (U.K. Channel Five) and The Pirate Code (National Geographic Televison).

A cable television series entitled Adventure Inc. produced by Gale Anne Hurd (Aliens, Terminator, The Abyss) was inspired by Clifford’s work.

He is a Fellow of The Explorers’ Club, a 2005 recipient of the Rolex-Lowell Thomas Award for underwater archaeology and an Honorary Member of The Boston Marine Society. In 2006, he was named Explorer-in-Residence by The American Museum of Natural History in New York. He is a member of the Speaker’s Bureau of The National Geographic Society.

An accomplished photographer, mountaineer, and jungle explorer, he is also the President of The Center For Historic Shipwreck Preservation, Inc. a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the exploration and preservation of history under the sea.