RV Sikuliaq Completes Cruise Using COVID-19 Precautions

Sikuliaq leaving Seward, Alaska, to embark on the cruise May 2020. (Credit: Sarah Spanos)

The research vessel Sikuliaq has successfully completed the first science cruise in the U.S. Academic Fleet since the COVID-19 pandemic stand-down began.

Special permission was given to three researchers from the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to collect water and plankton samples in the northern Gulf of Alaska, preserving an unbroken string of 22 years of ecological data collection.

“We succeeded in executing our scaled-back sampling plan, conducting
measurements of ocean physics, nutrient chemistry, phytoplankton and
zooplankton,” said Russ Hopcroft, the lead principal investigator.

The cruise was scaled down and followed a detailed mitigation and response plan so that operations adhered to COVID-19 safety precautions.
The scientific team was reduced from 24 to three to maximize social distancing on the 261-ft. vessel. Researchers had plenty of room to spread out within largely empty labs.

Hopcroft and colleagues Ana Aguilar-Islas and Seth Danielson worked around the clock to get their work done. “Everybody spent time collecting samples that would normally be taken by other investigators. We were all wearing at least two hats on the cruise,” said Hopcroft.

The scientists and crew members self-quarantined for two weeks prior to boarding the vessel and monitored themselves for signs of COVID-19 before and during the cruise.

Shoreside support personnel avoided contact with both crew and scientists in the days prior to the cruise to ensure there was no inadvertent exposure while mobilizing for the research activities.

“We got a tremendous amount of support from the ship’s crew and the marine technicians in making sure that we were able to pull this off in our shorthanded situation,” Hopcroft said.

The health-safety plan was shared with other vessels to help future research operations adapt to the pandemic.

The researchers are back at home and in quarantine for two weeks.

Seth Danielson, one of the scientists on the cruise. He took a selfie in the lab, where normally seven technicians would be helping him look at CTD profiles. (Credit: Seth Danielson)

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