Interested in Ocean Currents?

Not having control of the rudder module on Europa has really put the Jupiter team in a tough spot. We are completely at the mercy of the sea. For the past month we’ve continued to put our efforts towards recovering Europa, but we’re not there just yet.

In the mean time, we can still learn some things!


Like we mentioned in our last post, when we lost communication to the sub, the rudder automatically set itself in a “right rudder” position. Again, the goal is that it will do circles and stay in the same spot until it can either be fixed or recovered.

The ocean currents, however, have different plans!

If you’ve been following Europa you’ve noticed that it definitely hasn’t stayed in the same place. The currents are very strong out there in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and even though Europa’s “right rudder” may slow things down, it’s not stopping the inevitable drifting to wherever the sea may take it.

The last 30 days of Europa’s travel, all of which it has been drifting with the ocean currents.

The last 30 days of Europa’s travel, all of which it has been drifting with the ocean currents.

Left: Zoomed in portion of the 30 day picture  Right: Even more zoomed in portion, representing about 2 days of drift

Left: Zoomed in portion of the 30 day picture

Right: Even more zoomed in portion, representing about 2 days of drift

As you can see, Europa is all over the place!

When we look a little closer, you get a really good idea of what’s happening out there. Currents can (and do) change all the time. For example, there might be a strong SW current in a location at noon, and then by 4pm it’s turned into a mild NW current.

Wind is the main contributor to surface ocean currents (the top 100m of the ocean). In the Northern Hemisphere, the winds basically circle in a clockwise motion. From East to West near the equator, and then from West to East up North. This helps to explain why Europa is drifting in a SW direction.

Actually, part of the reason we haven’t been able to recover Europa yet is due to the strong winds in the surrounding area.

If you have a look below, you can see the wind reports at, and around, Europa’s position. Remember, these are satellite projections. Europa is our real-time true report.

And here is a look at the currents (these are interactive widgets, so feel free to zoom and pan around)…

Depending on how much you zoom in, you can see the little areas where the currents just go in circles (aka gyres). In other areas there are just steady streams that basically go in one direction.

Europa has found itself in both of these throughout the last month, but, again, has mostly followed a SW path.

This is a unique, and unintentional, experiment where we get to monitor the ocean currents first hand out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s pretty cool to compare to these satellite projections and see how accurate they actually are.

Europa’s location, relative to the entire Pacific Ocean.

Europa’s location, relative to the entire Pacific Ocean.

Well, we are still working to put together a recovery of Europa. Plans are in place, we are just waiting on a good break in the weather to go out an get it.

Our main hopes are that we keep communications to the float, and that it doesn’t get hit by some debris or a boat passing by. We’ve had some close calls, but so far so good!

We will keep you all updated and “current” (pun intended) as to what’s happening, and, as always, feel free to keep an eye on Europa from our HUMPACS page.


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S.O.S. Europa Needs Your Help

If you’ve been following Europa’s journey west, you probably noticed a very distinct change in it’s behavior on February 11th, 2019 (about 9 days ago).


This was not a planned detour.

Unfortunately, all communication to the the sub has been lost. We can no longer control the rudder, and that means Europa is currently just drifting with the ocean’s currents.

We are not sure what exactly caused this communication failure, but we took all possible steps to fix it remotely and found no success.

When the sub loses communication, it automatically gives itself a “right rudder”. This is for situations like the one we are currently in, and the hope is that the glider will just circle in the area where it lost communication until it can be fixed or recovered.

Being that the glider is out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there are a lot of strong currents that are pushing the glider in certain directions. When the sub is trying to do one thing, and the float another, twists in the umbilical can occur.

One twist means that the float has become 360 degrees out of sync with the sub. As you can see in the images below, Europa has had a number of twists take place since this communication error took place.

Europa at the beginning of the “right rudder” on February 11, 2019

Europa at the beginning of the “right rudder” on February 11, 2019

Europa after a few days of drifting with the “right rudder”

Europa after a few days of drifting with the “right rudder”

Obviously, our plans have now changed! We need to find a way to recover the glider.

There are actually a number of foreign fishing boats out in the vicinity, but that proves slightly difficult for a number of reasons. Language, when they will go back to port, ability to recovery the glider, willingness to help. These are all factors in this recovery that we are currently dealing with.

Other options are also available in the Marshall Islands (currently about 700 nautical miles SSW of Europa), but they have their own issues as well.

The above shows the path of a Taiwanese fishing boat, and how it missed direct contact with Europa by only 2.5 hours. The distance from the point where the two paths intersect to where Europa is currently at in this image is only 1 nautical mile. Unfortunately, due to communication issues, we were not able to contact the ship and have them try to recover Europa for us.

The above shows the path of a Taiwanese fishing boat, and how it missed direct contact with Europa by only 2.5 hours. The distance from the point where the two paths intersect to where Europa is currently at in this image is only 1 nautical mile. Unfortunately, due to communication issues, we were not able to contact the ship and have them try to recover Europa for us.

Of note: Europa will typically automatically avoid vessels that it determines are in its path within a certain distance. Because of the fact that the float cannot communicate with the sub, this functionality is now basically inoperable. This puts Europa at a higher risk of being run over by a boat while drifting at sea, hence, we are trying to recover sooner rather than later. In the mean time, we are requesting audio files that are stored on board in 30 second clips through Rudics in hopes to salvage as much data as possible in the event that we eventually lose Europa to a collision.

There are a few really good things that we still have going for us. We have full communication to the float. The sub is still attached. The cameras and lights and sensors on the float are still working.


These are all things that we’re actually very happy about. We are able to keep an up-to-date location on Europa, and expect that’s going to be a vital part of the recovery once we get a plan in place.

We are constantly working on a way to get Europa back, and will keep you updated along the journey.

As always, you can continue to track Europa along the way, and if you have any information or thoughts as to how to help aide in the recovery, we’d love to hear them.

Please feel free to reach out! We are offering a reward for the recovery of Europa.

Please contact

Mahalo, and aloha!

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Europa's NOT Drunk!

You may have noticed that Europa has been bouncing around a bit more than it did on HUMPACS East. Well don’t worry…it’s intentional!

The general path that Europa is following goes along 20oN latitude.

The reason that it is not going in a straight line is because there are numerous seamounts and guyots (aka tablemounts) that we are having it navigate over on it’s way to the Mariana Trench.

Seamounts are basically underwater mountains that are at least 1,000m tall. They do not actually reach the ocean’s surface. Guyots are seamounts that did, at one time, rise above the ocean’s surface, but then eroded away, flattened out, and eventually sunk back down underwater.

Why does all of this matter?

Well, since Europa is basically a very small fish in a very big pond, we need to strategically look for these humpback whales. Even though most of the time the tops of these seamounts and guyots can be found many hundreds, if not thousands, of meters below the ocean’s surface, they are actually great producers of marine ecosystems. That makes us think that we might have a better shot at stumbling upon some humpbacks in those areas, as opposed to simply out in the middle of an even deeper ocean.

There has been some research to support the statement that humpbacks seem to frequent seamounts and guyots, though the exact reason why hasn’t been determined.

The leading theories are that the landmarks serve as resting and/or feeding areas, points for navigation, and even meeting grounds (source: PubMed Central®).

Maybe they’re sharing different versions of their song? At the end of the day, we don’t really know why…yet!

If you’d like to dive a little deeper into the science and evolution of a seamount, check out our blog post Mountains in the Deep Sea.

Figure 1: Europa’s path on a nautical chart. Europa is currently traveling from East to West, and navigating over many different seamounts and guyots. (Depths are in meters).

Figure 1: Europa’s path on a nautical chart. Europa is currently traveling from East to West, and navigating over many different seamounts and guyots. (Depths are in meters).

Figure 2: Zoomed in image to show more detailed depths of the Horizon Tablemount that Europa traveled over Jan 16-19, 2019.

Figure 2: Zoomed in image to show more detailed depths of the Horizon Tablemount that Europa traveled over Jan 16-19, 2019.

Figure 3: Europa circling a particular seamount. We will have Europa do this from time to time to search a little more for humpbacks in areas we suspect them to be.

Figure 3: Europa circling a particular seamount. We will have Europa do this from time to time to search a little more for humpbacks in areas we suspect them to be.

If you check out the HUMPACS page, you’ll notice that from January 16-19 Europa was cruising over the Horizon Tablemount. In another two or three weeks, Europa should be traveling around the HIG Guyot. This particular guyot is of note to us here in Hawaii because it was actually discovered about 37 years ago by the “Kana Keoki” research vessel, and named after the Hawaiian Institute of Geophysics (source:

So, for those of you that were wondering, and dare we say concerned, about Europa’s up and down path…worry no more! Europa is doing exactly what we want it to do, and we’re collecting lots of great data that we look forward to sharing later on.

Until then, keep checking in and watching Europa as it makes it’s way West across the Pacific Ocean.

Also, check out our live audio stream of the humpback whales that are swimming around Puako, HI right now!


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Can You Hear Me Now?

When we were preparing for the first leg of HUMPACS, referred to as HUMPACS East, we found ourselves faced with a tough decision when it came to how the hydrophone should be mounted.

“Do we hang the hydrophone, or try to hard mount it as close to the sub as possible?”

When doing hydrophone operations just outside of Puako, Hawaii, we have found that you get the best audio if you hang the hydrophone at least 30 feet below the sub. This, obviously, is due to the fact that we’re basically decoupling the hydrophone from the sub. We also are able to pick up more sounds when we’re deeper.

Hearing that, you might wonder why we decided to hard mount the hydrophone during HUMPACS East.

Well, what we have also learned through years of experience monitoring the gliders off the coast of the Big Island is that when we have a hydrophone hanging, ocean currents become a much larger problem.

There are different currents at different depths, and so even though the glider (float, sub and hydrophone) are all relatively in vertical alignment, each part of them is getting pushed and pulled by a different current.

In Hawaii, it’s not that big of a deal for us because we keep the gliders in a relatively small area the majority of the time, and we can go rescue the glider if we really need to.

When sending it across the Pacific Ocean, it’s a different story. There are no rescue missions. It just has to work!

For that reason, we decided to keep the hydrophone hard mounted directly to the sub, with no separation or “acoustic isolation”. We knew that the background noise (flow noise, wing springs and rudder) would be very loud. However, we confirmed that even with all this loud background noise we would be able to detect humpback whales, as we did a proof of concept with humpbacks singing off Puako before sending it east. All this was worth it to know that the hydrophone would be very safe. After all, we’d never made this trek before, (no one had for that matter), so we didn’t know what kind of abuse it might encounter. Sharks, rubbish, wear and tear, getting tangled up by the umbilical. These were all big concerns, and, at the time, we needed to play it as safe as possible.

HUMPACS East  Copper Hydrophone Mount


Copper Hydrophone Mount

All these concerns continued to stand true with HUMPACS West. We still agreed that the unknowns about drifting were too much of a risk, so we mounted it close, but not hard mounted.

Since we did not encounter any drift that could have entangled the hydrophone, nor any shark bites, for HUMPACS West, we decided to see what the minimum distance was that we could drop the hydrophone and achieve higher quality audio. We still needed to keep the hydrophone safe, but we wanted more vibration isolation between the sub and the hydrophone itself.

After testing many different materials and changing up the distance of which we dropped the hydrophone below the sub we came to the conclusion that a three inch drop using EPDM Fiberglass Reinforced rubber sheets to mount was the way to go. It improved our audio and also kept the hydrophone safe at the same time. As an additional safety measure, we added a deflector bar to the bottom of the sub to help prevent shark bites and entanglement on the hydrophone.

HUMPACS West  EPDM Fiberglass Reinforced Hydrophone Mount


EPDM Fiberglass Reinforced Hydrophone Mount

Take a look at the two spectrograms below and see the difference in noise levels. HUMPACS West is exponentially more quiet than HUMPACS East. There is also almost a complete elimination of the 650Hz and 975Hz harmonics from the rudder module. This, alone, is a very improved piece of the puzzle, as the primary range that we listen and view the humpbacks’ song is in that <1KHz range.

HUMPACS West Spectrogram

HUMPACS West Spectrogram

HUMPACS East Spectrogram

HUMPACS East Spectrogram

As you can see, HUMPACS West is much more quiet as far as background noise goes. What’s that do for us? Well, if the background noise is less, then it becomes substantially easier to detect humpback whales (and other species). This improvement should greatly improve our post processing efforts, and is more efficient at detecting as many humpbacks as possible.

Currently, Europa is a little over 700nm (nautical miles) west of the Big Island of Hawaii. Follow its journey on the HUMPACS page!


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We're Back!

Europa is back in the water on her second mission to listen for humpback whales, just in time for the Holidays. Last year, Europa successfully completed the East Leg (from Hawaii to the Baja California Seamount Province and back), and now she will swim to the Mariana Trench and back (the West Leg). Biologists have wondered if there is an undiscovered distribution of humpback whales among the seamounts between these areas. Since the East Leg was successful, we hope Europa’s journey west will be triumphant. You can track Europa’s path on our website. Stay tuned for more updates!

Wishing you a Happy Holiday and a Joyful New Year!

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Photo Time-lapses from Europa

Almost one month has passed since we recovered Europa, and we are still in the process of analyzing data, however; we have reviewed all of our photos. During the 3.5 month mission, we had a camera attached to both the top and bottom of Europa’s float that took above and underwater images periodically on a daily basis.

The top camera was mounted on the back of the float looking forward, which enabled us to inspect the float and antenna deck during the mission. The bottom camera looked down towards the sub underneath the water to help us check the sub and umbilical. In the previous blog, we mentioned we had a gooseneck barnacle that grew over the underwater camera lens. Even so, we were still able to get glimpses of the sub for diagnostic purposes.

Over the 3.5 month mission, the top and bottom mounted cameras took over 500 photos each. We have constructed two time-lapse videos of the above and underwater pictures, which are each a little over three minutes long. We were able to capture some fantastic photos! The sunset photos and waves washing over the float are captivating, and it’s fun to watch the barnacle grow over time in the underwater footage.

In our next blog, we will post some sample of audio files of some exciting sounds we’ve heard, including odontocetes whistles and clicks, echolocation, and other unusual noises. Stay tuned!

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Europa is Home!

After many late nights and early morning of monitoring Europa, she was finally close to home. Europa endured many challenges during the 3.5-month mission, from huge waves, high winds, strong currents, sharks, marine debris, to near collisions with large ships! We are very proud of her!

On April 24th, she rounded South Point and started veering north as she fought powerful south-bound currents. The currents had her barely creeping, so at daybreak on the 25th, our team loaded our vessel, the May Maru, with recovery gear, and trailered the boat to launch from Honokohau Harbor in Kona. We found Europa just south of Milolii, about five miles off the coast.The retrieval mission was about 90 miles round trip and took about four hours, an effort well spent.

In this video we were approaching Europa just south of Milolii,

Here we were pulling Europa up onto our boat with the davit.

Once we got her on the deck, we visually inspected her for any damages and documented all of the critters that had hitched a ride, such as barnacles, crabs, and fishes. We then secured her to the deck and brought her home. The following day, we disassembled and examined all the payloads, and continued to document, and then identify, the marine organisms and debris that lingered in the payload bays. Overall, everything was in good shape, and the biofoul was minimal.

We are currently in the process of analyzing the temperature and salinity data from the HOBO logger that was attached to the bottom of the float. We have over 800 above and underwater pictures to download. Also, we are preparing to investigate our 2,000+ hours of acoustic data. We will, therefore, be hard at work for the next few months. After our analysis, we’ll publish our results in a peer-reviewed Journal and on our website. Stay tuned for updates within the following months, and thank you for following our HUMPACS mission. We can’t wait to see what will be revealed!

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Land Ho!

Europa  approximately 40 nautical miles off South Point (the red star).

Europa approximately 40 nautical miles off South Point (the red star).

Europa is nearing the shores of Ka Lae (ka-lie), or South Point, which is the southernmost tip of the Big Island and the United States. Archaeological excavations and Hawaiian tradition indicate Ka Lae, meaning “the point,” was the first place the early Polynesians occupied in Hawaii, as early as A.D. 124. The area is an official National Historic Landmark (NHL) because of its cultural significance and importance. Claiming this region as an NHL enables protection and preservation under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

Two prevailing currents converge off the coast of South Point: Kāwili and Hala’ea.The Kāwili, or the Hawaiian Lee Counter Current, flows from west to east all the way from Asia. This current is thought to have helped early Polynesians find the Hawaiian Islands while traveling from their original homeland: Kahiki.

The Hala’ea, also known as the North Equatorial Current, travels east to west by trade winds and is named after the greedy chief, Hala’ea. Oral histories and texts say Hala’ea ordered his men to throw all of their aku (tuna) into his canoe so he could claim all of the fish for himself. His men threw so many fish into his boat that it capsized, and he was swept out to sea by a strong current. Hence, the current bears his name.

The currents bring many nutrients and make the waters off Ka Lae abundant in fish. However, they also carry a vast amount of trash that piles up along the coastline. The majority of the waste is plastic, likely from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch carried by Hala’ea.

Since the first settlement of Polynesians, communities within Ka Lae have relied on fish as their prominent resource. In the 1950s, the University of Hawaii and the Bishop Museum excavated a site called Pu’u Ali’i. This location is thought to be one of the first dwellings in Ka Lae established by fishermen. Archaeologists found many different types of large fish hooks and tools to make them, including coral and stone abraders. Further excavations in Ka Lae revealed a fishing shrine (Ko’a) within the Kalalea Heiau. This shrine was created for the fishing god, Ku’ula, to maintain the abundance of fish. Other remaining cultural sites within the area are Lua o Palahemo, the Canoe Mooring Holes, and Lua Makalei.

The federal government manages NHL’s, and although it protects Ka Lae, it does not provide enough support on a local and state level. As environmental and cultural regimes continue to shift in Hawaii, significant stakeholders of Ka Lae (community members, the State of Hawaii, and the Department of Hawaiian Homelands) have recognized the need for additional preservation, conservation, and management efforts. Thus, since 2016, a new management plan has been underway that implements community-based management strategies of long-term land stewardship, and natural resource and cultural management.

Europa was able to swim past South Point without any issues from the currents as she traveled towards Mexico. We hope she doesn’t have any trouble as she passes it once more on her way home. Once she wraps around the point and gets north of Milolii (see map above), we plan to retrieve her with our vessel, the May Maru. She has approximately 80 nautical miles to go until retrieval. Track the rest of Europa's journey on our website and stay tuned for exciting new updates after HUMPACS concludes!

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How the Sea Shapes our Lives

Ocean Currents. Photo by  Atlas for the End of the World

Ocean Currents. Photo by Atlas for the End of the World

The vast, mysterious ocean, covering 71 percent of the Earth, plays an essential role in our everyday lives. Not just for the coastal and island dwellers, but for everyone. The ocean provides many ecosystem services, including food production, fisheries, pharmaceuticals, oxygen regulation, carbon storage and sequestering, water quality enhancement, coastal protection, biodiversity, economy, cultural values, and climate and weather regulation. Without the ocean, we would not be able to survive.

One of the most critical ecosystem services of the ocean is weather and climate regulation because it affects economies and livelihoods on a global scale. The sea has a low albedo, meaning it absorbs most of the sun’s heat radiation. Thus, water molecules heat up and evaporate into the atmosphere and create storms that are carried over long distances by trade winds and currents. These storms can become destructive as they accumulate warm water while traveling over the ocean.

Ocean currents are crucial for regulating the climate and transferring heat around the globe. Water density, winds, tides, and the earth’s rotation direct and power the currents, which are found on the ocean’s surface and at a depth below 900 feet. They move water horizontally and vertically and occur on a local and global scale. The currents create a global conveyor belt that acts as a global circulation system. It transfers warm water and precipitation from the equator towards the cold-watered poles and vice versa. It also plays a vital role in distributing nutrients across the ocean.

As seasons change, so do wind and weather trends, sea surface temperatures, and currents. Currents are stronger in the winter than they are in the summer because there are stronger winds and colder sea temperatures. Furthermore, spring is a considerable transition period. During this time, temperatures begin to warm, the density and salinity of the ocean changes, and wind patterns shift. These factors significantly influence currents, causing them to become unstable.

Without currents, the land wouldn’t be habitable because temperatures would be too extreme; the equator too hot and the poles too cold. Additionally, the precipitation distributed by currents and wind is necessary to all living things and is needed to sustain life. Foreseeable current, weather, and climate trends are key components in maintaining a healthy economy by supporting crops, livestock, tourism, etc., and can also save lives from dangerous storms and create more resilient communities.

Currents are measured and monitored by moored and drifting buoys that relay data via satellite. These buoys are efficient in collecting data, but they are quite costly and require much effort to deploy, retrieve, and maintain. Moored buoys often break from their mooring and can't be implemented in deep waters. Wave Gliders, however, can measure and monitor surface currents on a local and global scale in any seas without the considerable exertion and cost. Therefore, they could be utilized as an alternative to some of the moored buoys or drifters while collecting other vital data such as salinity, sea surface temp, CO2 levels, and much more. 

Europa has not experienced much trouble from the changing spring currents thus far. Although, on April 5th, she hit a robust northern current with no sea state to give her power, which made her veer off course a little. Fortunately, we were able to turn on the thruster (a small solar powered, electric propeller on the sub) that quickly put her back on track. We hope the currents remain steady and in our favor, so she’ll return home as soon as possible.

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Oh Barnacles, those Crusty Foulers!

Barnacles are pesky little creatures. Have you ever heard of Barnacle Bill, the foulest sailor? Well, he’s named that for a reason. Sailors, shipowners, and mariners hate barnacles because they attach to the bottoms of boats and ships (biofouling). Large barnacle colonies weigh marine vessels down, which causes them to drag and burn more fuel. In our case, they stick to the bottom of our Wave Gliders and block the camera’s field of view.

Biofouling is a process where invertebrates, including barnacles, mussels, sponges, and corals stick to marine surfaces. For this to occur, a biofilm consisting of bacteria, algae, seaweed, or diatoms must first form on the substrate. The formation of biofilm is dependent on many environmental factors, however, once it develops, the biofoul rapidly increases.

To prevent biofouling, we experimented with an antifouling Coppercoat™ paint and a 90-10 copper-nickel alloy before deploying Europa. First, we painted the entire vehicle with the Coppercoat™. If we didn’t do this step, a thick layer of barnacles and algae would encrust Europa and significantly weigh her down. We then sheathed the camera within a copper-nickel casing with an acrylic lens in hopes that biofouling would not occur.

This image displays the bottom of Europa's float, painted with a Coopercoat paint. The Camera (facing down) is encased in a copper-nickel alloy housing with an additional copper ring around the acrylic lens to prevent biofouling.

This image displays the bottom of Europa's float, painted with a Coopercoat paint. The Camera (facing down) is encased in a copper-nickel alloy housing with an additional copper ring around the acrylic lens to prevent biofouling.

As a secondary safeguard, we incorporated an additional biofoul resistant copper ring around the lens. Unfortunately, that didn’t work as we’d hoped. Europa has had a barnacle progressively developing over the camera’s field of view for over a month, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Their lifespan is 8-20 years so that barnacle will keep growing until Europa’s mission is complete, at which time we will identify this barnacle. Below is an image sequence of the barnacle forming in the camera lens.

So, besides being annoying, what is a barnacle’s purpose and ecological role? Barnacles are in the Crustacea taxon, meaning they are related to shrimps, lobsters, and crabs. They are most abundant in areas where upwelling occurs, worldwide. As larvae, barnacles function as zooplankton; microscopic organisms that float around as food for other critters. As they morph into adulthood, they affix themselves to surfaces, such as rocks, ships or whales, and eat microscopic plankton through feather-like appendages called cirri. Primarily, they play a trophic role in balancing plankton populations.

Barnacles secrete a robust adhesive substance like super glue that has enormous medical and engineering potential.  Scientists have discovered barnacle’s glue binds the same way humans’ blood does when it clots. By researching it further, scholars can gain more information about how to prevent barnacles from fouling.

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