At last, a tuna boat that's truly dolphin-safe. In 1986, USC bought a tuna clipper from Ralston-Purina for half a million dollars; since then, the university's Hancock Institute for Marine Studies has spent nearly $6 million converting it into a state-of-the-art oceanographic research vessel that may become the star of the nation's academic fleet of about 25 ships.

The John V. Vickers (named in honor of a donor) embarked on its maiden voyage from its home at Fish Harbor in October. Its crew is supplied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which shares its operation costs. The ship is at the beck and call of all qualified researchers, USC-connected and otherwise, capable of footing its $11,000-a-day operating bill. Most of the money has gone to equipment, but the Vickers does has a few necessary amenities, notably a bulbous bow that affords stability and a static flume tank that decreases roll. Seasickness, therefore, will be kept to a minimum.

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