The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Report


It has long been rumored that the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, a prestigious research organization located on coastal Massachusetts, had conducted a study on Oak Island. Various messages hinted that the study had been commissioned by the people at Triton and that it was being kept secret due to some sort of confidentiality agreement. One site, run by a fellow named Bill Milstead who is an investor in Triton's efforts, seems to suggest that secret findings are involved and that the results of the study are somehow proprietary ("I cannot divulge the 200 page report...").

Thus it seemed time to track down the facts surrounding this report. Enquiries were made to the Institute requesting access to the data or an interview with one or more of the scientists who were involved. A reply was received and two of the scientists consented to be interviewed by phone.

The first myths to be dispelled were that the study was paid for by the Triton organization and that the contents were somehow confidential; one of the scientists specifically said 'there are no secret Woods Hole files about Oak Island' in order to clear up this misconception. The research was actually commissioned by a Boston-based philanthropist whose name I am witholding from publication in order to prevent him from being deluged with requests for additional information. This individual has no known link to the Triton folk and it is not presently known why he requested the study be performed.

The Findings

The work performed was very brief (only a few weeks) and thus no extensive study of the area was possible. The researchers also did not have full access to the site -- some areas apparently were restricted by Triton. However several very interesting findings were made, and most of these prove much of what we 'know' about the island to be false despite Bill Milstead's assertion to the contrary .

The "Box Drains" Refuted

The Woods Hole scientists introduced an extremely sensitive dye into Borehole 10-X and then monitored the coastline around the island to check for outflow. Absolutely no dye was detected emerging anywhere around the island despite the fact that the water level in the 'borehole' varies with the tide in the same manner as is claimed of the Money Pit. Also, the water in the hole is not actually seawater. Instead it is brackish, indicating that a freshwater 'lens' exists on the island, riding atop the surrounding seawater due to the density difference between the two. This is apparently quite common where island geologies are concerned (Aubrey, 2002). If the so-called 'box drains' actually existed we would expect to find only seawater in the Pit. Instead, the findings indicate that a subterranean stream, normal water infiltration through the deeper 'sand and boulder' soils, and/or other natural mechanisms have caused the flooding of the Pit and other shafts.

This finding is reinforced by the results of side-scan sonar studies that were conducted at the same time. No indications of any sort of channel or 'drain' between the Pit area and the shoreline were found. The scientists summarized this finding during the interview by stating that 'no direct connection to the surrounding ocean was found during the study (Gallo, 2002).'

The CBC Video "Evidence"

The scientists viewed the enhanced CBC video that, according to the Triton folk, clearly showed a 'severed hand' and also a portion of a wooden chest or cask in the waters at the bottom of 10-X. Despite careful study, the Woods Hole researchers were unable to discern anything of the sort on the video; indeed one said the water was so murky and the video so poorly lighted that it was nearly impossible to distinguish any objects clearly (Aubrey, 2002). This should put to rest much of the speculation involving the video material and the spectacular findings it was purported to contain.

Coconut Fibres Found

One potentially interesting finding that was made involved the legendary coconut fibres. The Woods Hole team were taken to a site on the Northeast coast of the island by people from Triton, who 'dug down a bit and produced a handful of fibres from under the sand (Aubrey, 2002).' When analyzed, they were indeed confirmed as material from some species of coconut, possibly of Mediterranean origin but too decayed for a positive identification (Aubrey, 2002). Also surprisingly, carbon dating indicated a date of roughly 1100 CE for the fibres, which should prove very exciting to various authors although numerous explanations for the presence of the fibres and their age can be given.

It should be noted (and this was stated categorically by the chief scientist involved in the project) that the researchers were led to the spot and handed material retrieved from under the sand (Aubrey, 2002). No archaeological dig was conducted and the researchers did not have the time to search for additional samples. Thus it is possible that quantities of fibre were planted by prior treasure hunters in order to mislead potential investors, or (as one of the scientists suggested) the material might have been deposited on the eastern coast of the island by storm action sometime in the distant past; it is this side of the island that faces toward the Atlantic and consequently would receive more storm surge and other severe weather. Also, as this author has previously suggested the material may simply have been dunnage (shipping material--the ancient equivalent of 'packing peanuts') that was dumped at the site when materials or cargo were being unloaded. Items A and B above suggest the legendary 'box drains' are just that, e.g. the stuff of legend. If they don't exist then there's no reason to believe the coconut fibres have any connection to this aspect of the tale.

If the fibres were part of shipping material or cargo that was unloaded on the beach, then the questions become more interesting. Was the island used as a delivery point for rum smugglers? Did wreckers or more traditional pirates use it as a conveniently isolated location to unpack and disperse looted cargo? Each of these explanations is far more plausible than the suggestion of some elaborate system of 'box drains' that don't show up on modern sensing equipment.

More problematic is the reported age of the material. It seems quite possible the 1100CE date is correct, but it may also be the case that exposure to weather, salt water, or some other environmental influence has caused the date to be misreported by the carbon dating process. It should also be remembered that this date simply shows when the material began to decay—not the date it was deposited at the site.

The Woods Hole study, brief as it was, is very important since it represents the only impartial research that has ever been done on the island by people who have not had a vested interest in the results. It is very revealing that a two week scientific study was sufficient to dispell several of the key points surrounding the legend, and we can only speculate what would happen if a fully funded research group was able to spend several months performing unrestricted work at the site. Would they confirm some of the details of the legend or would we see each element crumble in the face of unbiased enquiry?

Perhaps someday...

Note: All material on these pages is © 1995-2002 Richard E. Joltes. All rights reserved. Short excerpts may be used as long as proper credit is given and advance permission is obtained.