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AFSC Historical Corner:  Murre II,  Supply & Research Power Barge

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Murre II
The NOAA power barge Murr II, R 663.  Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

Vessel Details
Year built: 1943
Location built: Seattle, WA
Builder: Maritime Shipyards
Designer: unknown
Other names/id: BSP 1915  (WWII)
FRV 63  (NOAA)
R 663  (NOAA)
#592984 (USCG ID)
Length: 86'
Breadth: 24'
Draft: 7.5'
Tonnage (tons): 95 net
Original engine: twin 115 hp Caterpiller
D-13,000 diesel
Average speed: 8 knots
Cruising range: 2,500 miles
Known skippers: Pat Britt  (1949)
Louis McDonald  (1954)
Gwilyn Hopkins  (1957)
Mark Myer  (substitute)
Herbert Hakula  (1960)
James Brown  (1963)
Henry Museth  (1965, '75)
James Whistler  (1986)
John C. Bortniak  (1989)
Fisheries service: 1949-89
Disposition: sold in 1991

The research vessel Murre II experience a long and distinguished service supporting fisheries research in Southeast Alaska – most of which was with the Agency's Auke Bay Laboratory (ABL).

This 86-foot self-propelled wooden barge was built in Seattle, Washington, by the Maritime Shipyards for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to haul mail, fuel, passengers, and various freight throughout the Aleutian Islands during World War II. She launched in 1943 as the BSP 1915

On 14 May 1949, the power barge was assigned to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) at Kodiak, Alaska, and rechristened the Murre II before being stationed at her home port in Juneau, Alaska.

From 1949 to 1963, the vessel hauled much needed cargo and personnel to stream guard camps and the Little Port Walter field station. The Murre II also acted as a base for FWS surveillance aircraft and crew. A significant incident occurred on 11 November 1956 when a blow-back in the engine room furnace resulted in an explosion and fire that caused minor damage to the vessel.

The Murre's shallow draft allowed for operations close to shore. In 1963, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service installed research equipment on the vessel and after that she became an integral part in Agency's fisheries and oceanographic research throughout Southeast Alaska.

Until research work began on the vessel in 1963, only cursory oceanographic studies of southeastern Alaska waters had been made. After an initial survey in Auke Bay, comprehensive programs were developed to gather data on a wide variety of marine topics. It has been estimated that about 80% of southeastern Alaska's first recorded identifications of marine zooplankton have come from samples taken while on the vessel. These and other 'firsts' were commonplace for the multipurpose Murre II.

In May 1964, the regular monthly oceanography cruise to survey Traitors Cove and conduct various mid-water trawling operations had to be cut short when the Murre II broke a crank shaft on a main engine forcing her to return to port. For several months, until engine repairs were made, most of her scheduled work was covered by the Heron.

  Murre II
The Murre II loaded with lumber and a bulldozer.
Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

The Murre II was operated by the Auke Bay Laboratory until 1987. During this time, the vessel made the first cruise in August 1975 for the purpose of acquiring distribution/abundance information on humpback whales in Southeast Alaska. Other assignments included supporting regional research activities as diverse as the NMFS' Marine Resources Monitoring, Assessment, and Prediction (MARMAP) program (1972);  the Porcupine Creek impacts of logging study (1977, 1981);  Steamer Bay benthic population investigations as part of a long-term ecosystem study of undisturbed estuarine systems (1977-78);  trawl surveys on the distribution of walleye pollock in nursery areas in Stephens Pass and Tenakee Inlet (1978, 1981);  and numerous surveys for pink and chum salmon plus oceanographic and plankton sampling in many locations in Southeast Alaska (1970s and 1980s).

In addition, the Murre II was also the base of operations for other research activities, such as the fall collections of Pacific ocean perch in southeastern Alaska (1980s); weekly monitoring in Auke Bay for "Plankton Watch-1982" – a cooperative program of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Juneau-area nonprofit private hatcheries and ABL; and the U.S./Canada transboundary Pacific salmon studies in the Boca de Quadra area of Southeast Alaska (mid-1980s).

Many of the ABL scientists have described the Murre II as the ideal vessel for Southeast Alaska coastal operations – supporting research efforts and moving people and supplies when and where needed. Over the years, the vessel managed to withstand its share of severe weather. On returning from one research project the vessel encountered a nasty storm in the Gulf Alaska. Upon docking in Juneau, divers found that some of its wood sheathing had been ripped off the hull but the nails had been left intact. Above water, only a few of the cargo bulkheads were damaged.

In 1987, the operation and maintenance of the Murre II was transferred to the NOAA Corps fleet. After 35 years of distinguished service supporting fisheries research in Southeast Alaska waters the vessel was decommissioned in 1989. Two years later the vessel was sold. She eventually went to the Poulsbo Community College on Puget Sound (Washington) as a training vessel for scallop draggers.

Murre II photos in the AFSC Multimedia Gallery.

Murre II
A cold day on the NOAA vessel Murre II, FRV 63.  Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

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