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AFSC Historical Corner:  1980 - 1989

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NOAA Western Regional Center Opens at Sand Point in Seattle

Sand Point facility
NOAA's Sand Point facility dedicated in 1983.  NOAA photo.

On 28 October 1983, dedication ceremonies were held for NOAA's new Western Regional Center at Sand Point in Seattle, Washington. A year later, the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), which had been occupying a nearby Sand Point aircraft hanger, was the first division to move into Building 4 at the new facility. They were followed by the Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center's (NWAFC) Center Director's Office, Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering (RACE) Division, and Resource Ecology and Fisheries Management (REFM) Division.

The Utilization Research (UR) and Environmental Conservation (EC) Divisions remained at the Montlake facility because of the extensive laboratory space available there. The Coastal Zone and Estuarine Studies (CZES) Division also stayed at Montlake because of its fish-rearing facilities.

In October 1988, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) received a report of three gray whales trapped in the ice near Barrow, Alaska. Over a 3-week period, NMFS led an international rescue endeavor named "Operation Breakthrough", which allowed two of the whales to swim free from the ice. Another rescue effort that month saved 27 beluga whales stranded off Anchorage.

The oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Alaska on 24 March 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. This event led to years of Center research on the effects of oil spills on Alaska marine ecosystems.
 

1984 - Four Whale Biologists Survive Crash in Arctic Ocean
Three NMML biologists, David Rugh, Barb Taylor, and Ann Sinclair, along with Jim Cubbage of the Cascadia Research Collective (Olympia, WA), were involved in a plane crash while conducting photographic surveys of bowhead whales. Both engines of their DeHaviland Twin Otter had stalled 1,000 feet over the Beaufort Sea, some 6 miles from shore. Since these planes were built with the wheels fixed down, they almost always flipped over when hitting the water. Life rafts were not normally carried due to the unlikely chance of survival, but in this case a raft was acquired and loaded aboard the plane after persistent requests made by the task leader.

The skill of pilot Robert "Bob" Platt may have saved the lives of six people that day. Platt turned the plane into the wind and they coasted down to the sea. Although the plane did not flip over, it did hit with a bang causing the belly window to burst open. The plane immediately began to fill with water. During the few minutes before the plane sank, everyone managed to swim free, salvaging only the life raft and four of the five NMML survival suits that had been on board. Within minutes one helicopter responded to their distress call. Another helicopter then arrived with an additional life raft 30 minutes later. The Arctic Surveyor, an Esso survey ship, picked them up from which they were later transported by helicopter to the hospital in Inuvik (NW Territories, Canada). Though some of the survivors were in a mild state of shock, there were few apparent injuries. The crash served as a valuable warning to both this team and to others working in the Arctic as to what additional survival gear should be carried.

Though the story ended safely for all aboard, there is a tragic ending to this tale. Bob Platt was killed in a plane crash less than a month later.  (From Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Quarterly Report, July-Sept. 1984)


Other significant events:

  • 1980 - In January, Dr. Lee Alverson retired as the Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center Director. Francis Fukuhara, followed by Murray Hayes, both served as Acting Directors until September, when Dr. William Aron was named Director.
     
  • 1980 - On 12 March, scientists of the NWAFC Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering (RACE) Division discovered a large concentration of walleye pollock eggs in Shelikof Strait, Alaska, near Kodiak Island. In subsequent years, researchers measured the spawning population and traced the movements of the eggs and larvae. This research expanded into the Fisheries Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (FOCI) program, a joint effort with NOAA scientists at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.
     
  • 1980 - The original Fishery Conservation and Management Act (FCMA) was officially renamed the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MFCMA) in honor of Washington State Senator Warren Magnuson.
     
  • 1980 - A computer program was created to retrieve photograph of whales stored on computers.  More >>
     
  • 1980 - A massive spawning concentration of walleye pollock was found near Kodiak Island.  More >>
     
  • 1981 - NOAA facilities were completed at the Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport to serve the scientific needs of various organizations and government agencies.
     
  • 1983 - The Northern Pacific Halibut Act was passed to enforce the terms of the U.S.-Canada agreement prohibiting fishing by unauthorized foreign vessels.
     
  • 1984 - On 10 March, the fishery conservation zone (FCZ) was designated as the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by Presidential Proclamation.
     
  • 1984 - Longline sablefish index surveys were planned by Auke Bay Laboratory (ABL) scientists.  More >>
     
  • 1985 - The APPRISE study was initiated in Auke Bay by ABL staff to assess the density and distribution of zooplankton.  More >>
     
  • 1986 - Early in the year, the Fisheries Data and Management Systems Division was disbanded and mainframe computer services were carried on by the Office of Fisheries Information Systems (OFIS) group of the Center Director's Office.
     
  • 1988 - Marmot Island northern fur seal observations and research began.  More >>
     
  • 1988 - Genetic diversity of chum salmon was studied for Southeast Alaska streams.  More >>
     


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