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first research vessel Albatross Fish Commission Steamer Albatross, in service 1882-1921, was the first vessel in the world built specifically to conduct marine research. Credit: NOAA
Albatross III breaking loose from pier during hurricane Albatross III breaking loose from the pier during a hurricane. Credit: NOAA

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The Albatross Legacy

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Four research vessels have carried the name Albatross since 1882, two of them built specifically for fisheries and oceanographic research and two conversions from other purposes. The legacy began with the construction of the steamer Albatross in 1882, launching the modern era of ocean research and exploration and the birth of the village of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, home port to all four ships, as a center for worldwide marine research.

Albatross: 1882-1921

This 234-foot steamer, also rigged as a brigantine with more than 7,500 square feet of sail, was the first research vessel in the world constructed exclusively for marine research. Albatross made its first scientific cruise in the summer of 1883 between Washington and Woods Hole, investigating the fishes and bottom in a wide area of the coastal shelf and Gulf Stream. During its forty years of service Albatross surveyed the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans on numerous cruises, briefly served in two wars, and made its last survey in the Gulf of Maine before being decommissioned at its home port of Woods Hole, Mass.

Albatross II: 1926-1932

Built in 1909 as a two-masted steamer, the 150-foot sea tug and former World War I minesweeper Patuxent was acquired in 1926 from the U.S. Navy and converted to a fishery research vessel.  The ship was renamed Albatross II and used for six years before repair and operational costs required the vessel be taken out of service in 1932 and returned to the Navy in 1934. During its six years of service to marine research, Albatross II surveyed the New England fishing grounds and conducted pioneering studies of haddock, mackerel, and plankton.

Albatross III: 1948-1959

The third ship to bear the name Albatross was another conversion, or rather a double conversion, before it became a fisheries research vessel.  Originally named the Harvard and built in 1926 as a steam trawler, the vessel fished New England waters until 1939, when it was sold to the U.S. Government for $1.00 to be converted into the fisheries research vessel. With the conversion well underway in 1942, the Coast Guard took over the vessel for use as a patrol boat during World War II, lengthened the ship from 140 to 179 feet, and renamed it the Bellefonte. The ship was returned to civilian use in 1944, completed a second conversion in 1948, and was renamed.  Albatross III made 128 cruises during its research career and contributed significantly to knowledge of the fisheries and oceanography of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean.

Albatross IV: 1963 - 2008

The 187-foot Albatross IV, like the first Albatross, was designed specifically to conduct fisheries and oceanographic research. The first stern trawler to be built in the United States, the vessel was commissioned May 9, 1963 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 decommissioning of the ship November 20, 2008 at its home port in Woods Hole marked the end of an era for research ships that bear the name Albatross.

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