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Aboard the R/V Vantuna

By Christopher Mahan

Please be patient, page loads slowly because of the quantity of pictures.

On September 26th, 1998 I followed the 110 freeway in my tiny rented car, exited at "Vincent Thomas Bridge", drove over that rather impressing bridge and wondered just what kind of monstruous ship required such clearance. The sea was calm, it seemed. The grey overcast sky dulled every color and sombered my mood. In preparation to the ordeal ahead--four hours on a boat--I had taken some motion sickness pills that my girlfriend had given me. I hoped they would work, because I felt rather queasy at the prospect of regugitating my lunch in a not-so-photogenic moment.

I had brought my camera, a Minolta Maxxum SPXi with several rolls of ISO 400 film, in order to capture this experience for the web site I planned to make of it. I also brought a sweater, some water, and my all-important box of saltines.

I parked my car near the docks and walked around some nondescript buildings. Then I saw the harbor, and the R/V Vantuna. It was white, with a large rusty crane-like frame that reminded me of the fishing ships I had seen in Brittany years ago, when vacationing as a kid.

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The R/V of R/V Vantuna stands for Research Vessel. She is was a gift from Gilbert Van Camp, of the Van Camp tuna company. She is now operated by the Southern California Marine Institute.

Southern California Marine Institute  

The R/V Vantuna is not only used by area schools and colleges as a floating classroom, but is also used for research by colleges, universities, private industry, and various government institutions.

We milled around--other students and myself--until Professor Lee came aboard and introduced us to the resident biologist. The biologist, who shall remain nameless in this seafaring tale, told us about what to do aboard the vessel. He warned us to stay clear of the hydrolic motor, to watch our steps, to pay attention to everything going on, and how to use the life vest. He also told us about the heads (the restrooms), warned us not to go below deck, and finally, warned us not to use the heads to throw up in, but to do that overboard...

So it is with a sense of excitement that I boarded the vessel along with my classmates. I walked around a bit, feeling my way. I went everywhere I was allowed, stowed my stuff, and took a few pictures of the equipment on the deck.

v0015.JPG (12791 bytes) There was much to be learned. Above is the electronic equipment we used to measure the water salinity, temperature, depth, dissolved oxygen. Also, there was the Secchi disk, which allowed us to measure the depth to which light penetrates. v0008.JPG (14133 bytes)


v0001.JPG (34206 bytes) Wow, Look at that catch! I was amazed at the abundance of life in the ocean. There was a great variety of fishes, halibut, tongue fish, anchovies, shrimp, and many others that I did not recognize.

To the right is a picture of the plankton as seen through the eyes of the microscope. The plankton is the beginning of the food chain, and its level indicate the health and bounty of the sea.

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Seawater data



Date : 09-26-1998

Time: 12:45 PM

Location: Alongside Dock


Forel Ule Color: Greenish 33� 44' 15" N
Secchi Disk Extinction Depth: 3.5 Meters 118� 16' 15" W

Measured Data

Depth Temperature pH Dissolved Oxygen Salinity
0 19.27� C 7.07 5.11 ppm 32.9
6 19.02� C 6.99 4.32 ppm 32.9

In the harbor, where the surface of the water is calm, there was however quite a bit of mixing of the water from the passing ships, and because of the depth of only 6 meters, there was very little difference in the water conditions between the surface and the bottom. Also, water turbidity (transparency) was very low, again because of this mixing.

v0021.JPG (16424 bytes) At the docks.



Date : 09-26-1998

Time: 1:45 PM

Location: In harbor


Forel Ule Color: Greenish 33� 43' 4" N
Secchi Disk Extinction Depth: 4.5 Meters 118� 14' 14" W

Measured Data

Depth Temperature pH Dissolved Oxygen Salinity
0 18.76� C 7.23 6.60 ppm 33.0
6 18.52� C 7.23 6.60 ppm 32.9
10 17.98� C 7.09 5.54 ppm 33.0
13 17.32�C 7.15 5.80 ppm 33.0

In the harbor, out a little ways from the docks but still within the port, we saw sea lions resting (basking in the sunlight) on red floating navigation lights. Here, the crew used a special net to gather some plankton which we looked at with the aid of the microscope and the television screen.

v0024.JPG (23497 bytes) The sun came out for a while and lighted the sea quite nicely. The R/V Vantuna, as you can very easily see, did follow the movement of the swells. I was very fortunate the pills I took worked and, unlike some of my less-fortunate classmates, did not feel this mal-de-mer that gripped their stomach so. 



Date : 09-26-1998

Time: 2:16 PM

Location: Rock Pile


Forel Ule Color: Dark Blue 33� 40' 37" N
Secchi Disk Extinction Depth: 17 Meters 118� 14' 00" W

Measured Data

Depth Temperature pH Dissolved Oxygen Salinity
0 19.55� C 7.31 6.90 ppm 33.3
10 19.13� C 7.31 6.88 ppm 33.1
20 16.11� C 7.23 7.1 ppm 33.0
25 15.38�C 7.15 6.66 ppm 32.9

At the rock pile, the crew used the biologic dredge to retrieve rocks from the bottom. These were rather beautiful. The holes in the rocks, drilled by special seashells, become refuge to a multitude of other animals. The purple on the rocks below right is a form of algies that clings to rocks. We see kelp, the leather-like leaves at the top of the picture. Here, the water was much more blue, and the waves were nice and steady. I could follow the swells, as they reached up for the ship every 8 or 10 seconds. The visibility increased considerably, and apparently there was less plankton activity. however, the water's oxygen content had increased since we had left the harbor. This was due in part by the fact that it was later in the day and that the plankton had had more exposure to the sunlight.

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Date : 09-26-1998

Time: 3:15 PM

Location: Otter Trawl


Forel Ule Color: Dark Blue 33� 41' 18" N
Secchi Disk Extinction Depth: 21 Meters 118� 19' 52" W

Measured Data

Depth Temperature pH Dissolved Oxygen Salinity
0 19.88� C 7.35 6.97 ppm 33.3
10 17.23� C 7.25 7.10 ppm 32.9
20 15.35� C 7.22 7.12 ppm 33.0
30 14.26�C 7.11 6.44 ppm 33.0

At the otter trawl, we got more fish (much to the delight of the following seagulls and pelicans) and got some more interesting readings from the instruments. The temperature did drop quite a bit (more that 5 degrees C) and the pH too decreased. Professor Lee did mention that the elecronic equipment might not be properly calibated, giving us some more uncertain results in for dissolved oxygen and salinity

vchart1.JPG (15613 bytes) The chart to the left shows the decrease of water temperature with increasing depth. Colder water sinks, as it is heavier.  

v0025.JPG (22230 bytes) To the left, our hungry following, and the churning of the waves by the ship.

To the right, some of the instruments of the R/V Vantuna, such as radar, position lights, and the wind measuring device, the anemometer.

Also, a couple of people seated, not feeling too well...


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We caugt some interesing critters, like this starfish, and this bottom dweller, from the shark family. He got to go back overboard right away...

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Finally, we returned to the harbor, and got to relax a little. I took more pictures of birds, as they are a favorite subject of my amateur photographic efforts, and soon we were back at the dock, to drive away again after paying the 50 cents for the bridge.

v0018.JPG (23948 bytes) The waves in the ocean, up close.
v0015.JPG (12791 bytes) The Los Angeles Harbor lighthouse, and some interesting play of sunlight on the waves. v0023.JPG (34032 bytes)

Finally, I would like to say that going on the R/V Vantuna was the most pleasant of my college experiences. It was indeed an eye opener, and I would greatly recommend the oceanography lab course to other students. It made everything I had learned in class so real and so very relevant, as the ocean is indeed to be respected as a powerful force and cherished as a life-giver.

For more information, please visit the Southern California Marine Institute website.

Copyright 1998 Christopher Mahan.