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updated December 5, 2008
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Commemorating the Albatross IV

A4 first docks in Woods Hole
enlarge image
The Albatross IV first docks in Woods Hole, Mass. in November 1962. (Credit: NOAA)
Dedication of the Albatross IV. (Credit: NOAA)
Related Links
Albatross IV web site
Albatross IV Decommissioning Program
Educational Opportunities
Albatross Legacy
Women Onboard the Albatross
45 Years of Service-- Fun Facts
It was a Great Day! (images and video clips from Decommissioning Day)
NOAA Ship Albatross IV to be Decommissioned November 20

Ceremony Marks End to 45-Year Career and 126-Year Legacy

After 45 years spent conducting fisheries and oceanographic research in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, the 187-foot ship Albatross IV will be retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research fleet and decommissioned in a ceremony November 20, 2008 at the Woods Hole Laboratory of the  Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), the ship’s home port. 

The Albatross IV, built by the Southern Shipbuilding Corporation of Slidell, Louisiana, was designed specifically to conduct fisheries and oceanographic research. The vessel entered service in 1962 and spent much of its career conducting resource surveys assessing the health and population structure of finfish and scallops on the Northeast continental shelf, marine mammal surveys, and studies of plankton and larval fish abundance. The surveys provided the foundation for managing fishery resources and for ecological research, and contributed significantly to the NEFSC’s unique data library, including the world’s longest time series of standardized fishery population data.

Albatross IV is among the few vessels that can fish with commercial gear and simultaneously record data about the marine environment.  It is the first fisheries research vessel constructed in the modern era of shipbuilding, with a speed of 10 knots and a range of 4,300 nautical miles. Through the years the vessel spent an average of 250 days at sea each year, traveled more than 655,000 miles and made more than 41,000 stations. It also collected more than 17,000 scientific specimens, most of them stored at the Smithsonian Institution. Of that total, 613 were uniquely identified species.

Some other interesting facts from the career of Albatross IV: the largest specimen collected was a 14-foot basking shark and the oldest aged fish a 58-year-old redfish. The ship’s largest catch, by weight, of a single species was 27,000 pounds of spiny dogfish in 1983, and its largest catch, by number, of a single species was 253,571 bay anchovies in 2002. More than 850,000 samples were collected for age and growth studies, and more than 500,000 samples collected to study food habits, or what various species eat.

At the time of its construction in 1962, the variable pitch propeller and steering system using a nozzle around the propeller instead of a rudder and a bow thruster were considered novel. Designed by the Boston naval architectural firm Dwight S. Simpson & Associates, Albatross IV was the first stern ramp trawler built in the United States. As technology and scientific needs advanced, the ship underwent two major overhauls during its career, the first in 1988 and the second in 2003.

Although most of the ship’s projects involve fish stock assessments, the vessel has also conducted a wide variety of physical, chemical and biological studies. During the 1970s, the ship conducted ten years of joint studies off the Northeastern United States with vessels from the former Soviet Union, which also had in its fleet a research vessel named Albatross for a time. During the 1990’s Albatross IV participated in the U.S. GLOBEC (Global Ocean Ecosystems Dynamics) Georges Bank Program, an international effort by researchers from 25 nations to model the natural processes supporting marine life on Georges Bank, with specific focus on larval cod and haddock and their predators.

With flexible capabilities, Albatross IV has been used on occasion for rapid response to emergency situations, including oil spills. In 1996 it was rerouted from a planned research cruise to the site of an oil spill off Rhode Island, sampling the area in and around the spill to provide a baseline against which to measure natural resources damages. The ship also rescued a number of people at sea through the years, including two Canadian fishermen in a life raft in the Gulf of Maine after the 60-foot wooden boat they were fishing from had an engine room fire and was destroyed.

As the last of four ships in the federal fisheries research fleet to bear the name Albatross, the decommissioning of Albatross IV ends an illustrious 126-year history that began in 1882 with the construction of the first Albatross, a 234-foot steamer also rigged as a brigantine. That ship was the first vessel built specifically for marine research by any government, and like its successors made its home port in Woods Hole at the fisheries laboratory, established in 1871 as the nation’s first conservation and environmental research laboratory. Today the Woods Hole laboratory is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and serves as headquarters for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, part of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

Albatross IV left Woods Hole November 3, 2008 on its last cruise, the annual fall bottom trawl survey on the Northeast continental shelf. It returned to its home port in Woods Hole on November 14. After the decommissioning ceremony the ship will remain in Woods Hole a few days before heading for the NOAA's Atlantic fleet facility in Norfolk, Va.

The new 209-foot NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow, commissioned in July 2007, will replace the Albatross IV; the two vessels have been working together for the past year to calibrate surveys to ensure a smooth transition.

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