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Life in Ruins: The Wreck of the Mary D. Hume

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GPS Coordinates: 42.421948, -124.417363

Sitting half submerged at the mouth of the Rogue River and within sight of the famous Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge, the wreck of the Mary D. Hume is a relic from a coastal culture which no longer exists.

Constructed in 1881 from local white cedar, the ship became a heralded symbol of the salmon fishing industry on Oregon’s South Coast. At the time, the Rogue River had a large annual run of Chinook Salmon, sometimes referred to as “King Salmon.” The harvesting of salmon was a highly lucrative industry throughout the Pacific Northwest, having benefitted from new canning techniques which allowed the fish to reach markets all across the United States.

For the first decade of her life, the Mary D. Hume worked as a coastal freighter, hauling shipments of canned salmon and timber between Gold Beach and San Francisco, California. By 1890 however, the salmon industry was in sharp decline, adversely impacted by over-harvesting, water contamination and competition with agricultural interests for water resources. Subsequently, the ship was sold and refitted as a whaling vessel. For ten years, the Mary D. Hume prowled the Bering Sea, eventually coming to hold the record for largest catch of baleen whale in the industry. By the early twentieth century, the ship was converted into a tug boat and even served briefly as a halibut fishing vessel. When she was retired in 1978, the Mary D. Hume had been in continuous use for an astonishing 97 years. Her last voyage was to the south bank of the Rogue River, not far from where she’d been built. Initially, the vessel was intended to become a floating museum, but an accident caused her to sink in 1985. With no funds to salvage the ship, the tides and the coastal weather quickly ravaged her. She still rests in the spot where she sank, a picturesque reminder of a past age.

Because the Mary D. Hume is located several yards offshore, it cannot be closely approached (and it would probably be dangerous to do so), but observations can be easily made from the shoreline. The wreck is an interesting example of human-made ruins which provide habitat for both marine and terrestrial species. Unseen to the observer are the numerous fish and invertebrates living in the remains of her wooden hull. Above the waterline, the deteriorating wheelhouse and decks are carpeted with grasses and other terrestrial plants, while the capstans and smokestack offer convenient perches for sea birds and many raptor species.

If you visit the Mary D. Hume, be sure to share your experience and photographs with the Oceanscape Network by uploading them through The Stream.

Notable Animals of the Lower Rogue River: Bald Eagle | Black Bear | Canada Goose | Chinook Salmon | Coho Salmon | Great Blue Heron | North American River Otter | Osprey | Pacific Lamprey | Steelhead Trout

Notable Plants of the Lower Rogue River: Douglas-fir | Red Alder | Western Hemlock | Western Redcedar

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