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AFSC Historical Corner:  Heron,  Flagship Research Launch  (1931-35)

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Heron
The motor launch Heron in Port Conclusion, Alaska.  Bureau of Fisheries photo, 1935.

 

As the only vessel in the Agency's Pacific coast scientific fleet for many years, this little boat was considered a flagship. The Heron was built in Tacoma, Washington, just after World War I as a small Pacific cod fishing vessel christened the Kayak. After many fishing trips she was rebuilt into a pleasure boat of teak and white sails.

The Bureau of Fisheries (BOF) purchased her in July 1931 after being persuaded by its Seattle Laboratory biologists that a small vessel of this kind was needed for their work in Alaska. The Kayak was renamed the Heron and became the Bureau's first gas powered boat used exclusively for scientific work on the Pacific coast and in Southeast Alaska.

The Heron is believed to have been 36 feet long, with a 10.5-foot beam and 10.5-foot draft. She was powered by a 30-horsepower Frisco-Standard engine and served as a workhorse used not only for research but for transporting Bureau personnel and materials around Alaska. Aboard the boat was laboratory space and comfortable living quarters. She was assigned to Doctor George Rounsefell to facilitate his field work studies of the Alaska herring.

In her initial year of BOF service, the Heron was used in 1931 to obtain, for the first time, racial herring samples from Saginaw Bay (Frederick Sound), Gut Bay (Chatham Strait), Point Lull (Peril Strait), Point Augusta (Icy Strait) and Anita Bay (Zimovia Strait). During an extensive herring tagging program begun in 1932, she was used by Dr. George A. Rounsefell, Edwin Dahlgren, and Samuel Hutchinson in southeastern Alaska, where some 5,000 herring were tagged and released using new metal "belly" tags that could be recovered by a magnetic detection system on the conveyer belts at processing plants.

In addition to being a valuable research tool, the Heron was used as a transport for fishery officials, a tow boat, logging boat, and fishing boat. She also helped clear timber during the construction of the Little Port Walter field station.

In 1935, after gradual deterioration, the little Heron was condemned and auctioned off – the end of the Pacific scientic fleet for a time and a sad event to many of the Seattle Laboratory staff.


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