Not many buildings are more than two stories tall in the quiet,
industrious town of Seward, Alaska. Aside from only a few hotels, the
Alaska SeaLife Center, and the occasional luxury RV, the view from the
city onto the protected waters of Resurrection Bay remains relatively
unspoiled. On a good day, wandering eyes can gaze uninterruptedly down
the bay south to Cain’s Head, Fox Island, and Kayaker’s Cove with even
the off chance of spotting a whale—that is of course when there isn’t
a 274-ft research vessel docked at the head of the bay.

When in port, R/V Sikuliaq docks alongside the Seward Marine Center, a
satellite extension of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, College of
Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. There, with her five white decks and
dark blue hull, Sikuliaq is hardly a ship to be missed as she dwarfs
the city’s horizon much like the seasonal cruise ships further to the
north near the main boat harbor. Upon descending the city’s small
hillcrest to the south, she comes into view at the end of the road.
Newer than any facility in town and fitted with the most recent
state-of-the-art scientific equipment, Sikuliaq is a sharp contrast to
the charming blue-collar quaintness of her home port. Her bow extends
beyond the Center’s small dock encroaching into the deep fjord like a
racehorse waiting for the gate to open. This is same image of awe,
wonder, and excitement that greets each research crew who disembarks
from Seward with Sikuliaq.

While Seward is technically Sikuliaq’s home port, her home resides at
sea, a place she has been since May 31st with NPRB’s Arctic Program
and a team of 20 scientists. Sailing into the Gulf of Alaska, around
Kodiak Island, and through Unimak Pass, Sikuliaq was a seven-day steam
to the sampling locations in the northern Bering and southern Chukchi
Seas. Laboratories were set up, mooring buoys configured, and new gear
deployments tested along the way. For example, an instrument that
measures conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) called an Acrobat
was successfully towed at Sikuliaq’s stern to continuously sample at
various depths in a yo-yo pattern. Retrofitted with mechanical wings
that adjusts for pitch and throw, the Acrobat flies through the water
column collecting data that would otherwise require the vessel to
stop. Now, along transect lines, researchers like Seth Danielson can
observe a more comprehensive view of the oceanography.

But the days leading up to sampling were quiet, composed, and filled
with anxious enthusiasm for science to start. That day came early
yesterday morning like a douse of cold water to the face. The lull of
Sikuliaq’s voyage was quickly transformed and jolted into action on
the 7th when we arrived at the first sampling location. A sediment
trap was deployed at 5am, the ship’s main CTD cast at 7am, zooplankton
sampling, followed by a series of benthic and midwater net trawls. The
ship’s deck was alive, thriving with science. Every member contributed
like a well-oiled machine into the early dawn of the second day. At
2:30am the last of the sediment sampling crew made their way back
through the Baltic Room and hung their Mustang suits to dry. They were
the last two on deck, lit only by the ship’s deck lights, working
feverishly to prep the gear for later this morning.

 Photo Credit: Brendan Smith

Photo Credit: Brendan Smith

 Photo Credit: Brendan Smith

Photo Credit: Brendan Smith

 Photo Credit: Brendan Smith

Photo Credit: Brendan Smith