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Royal Order of Purple Porpoises

The Ancient Order of the Purple Porpoise certificate that the Okeanos Explorer team received as they crossed the junction of the Equator and the International Date Line at the Sacred Hour of the Vernal Equinox.

The Ancient Order of the Purple Porpoise certificate that the Okeanos Explorer team received as they crossed the junction of the Equator and the International Date Line at the Sacred Hour of the Vernal Equinox. Image courtesy of Bruce Cowden. Download larger version (4.1 MB).

Charles Wilkins
Senior Survey Technician, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations

In the annals of seafaring history, there are many rites of passage and traditions passed down through generations of sailors and explorers. Many are practical, some are symbolic; but nearly all are acknowledged by other seafarers as being representative of capability, experience, and fellowship.

One of the oldest traditions that encompasses these qualities is participating in Line Crossing ceremonies, where vessel and crew cross through particular areas within the Earth’s gridded boundaries of significance over the seas, such as the Equator, Arctic and Antarctic Circles, Prime Meridian, and International Date Line. Other areas of significance can be exotic bodies of water and canals of the world.

Several of the crossings and their particularities are listed below:

When crossing the Equator in particular, all sailors who cross during a nautical voyage must undergo rites of passage and elaborate rituals initiating them into The Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep. Those who are uninitiated are referred to as “Pollywogs” or “Slimy Wogs,” while those who have previously performed the initiation rituals are “Trusty Shellbacks.” “Trusty” typically is a reference used to denote inducted sailors who can rely on each other, after together being tempered and forged, earning acceptance from King Neptune and his Royal Court.

In modern times, these traditions of ages past have faded as societal mores have evolved, particularly in regard to the intensity of indoctrination. Nevertheless, today many Shellbacks still hold true to the belief that at minimum, Line Crossing ceremonies still remain full of shenanigans, tomfoolery, creativity, and camaraderie. In the end, the Pollywogs have atoned for their trespassing into King Neptune’s realm without permission, and become part of the Royal Order of the Deep.

On March 20, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer and crew had the rare opportunity to achieve one of the rarest of all Line Crossings, The Royal Order of Purple Porpoises. While in the area of Howland and Baker Islands at this particular time of year, the Okeanos will cross the junction of the Equator and International Dateline at the time of the Vernal Equinox.

In researching the history of Purple Porpoises, few vessels have reported this accomplishment. Many were Navy vessels in this area of the Pacific during World War II. The Okeanos crew eagerly looks forward to joining this rare order and celebrates those who made the journey before them.

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