The Kendall family-owned company Spice Island Traders operated ocean-going vessels used for a variety of scientific and exploratory endeavors, including extensive study of whale habitats and behaviors. It provided charter service and support to research organizations including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the New England Aquarium, NOAA, and several universities and corporations.
Kendall family members supported and actively engaged in a variety of maritime and underwater explorations and projects over a number of years.
The research vessel Ida-Z (55′6″ LOA), built in 1980, was named after the intrepid Newport lighthouse keeper Ida Z. Lewis. It carried out marine mammal research off Alaska and in the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas. It was also used to retrace and document the path of Odysseus as described in the Odyssey.
The research vessel Abel-J (105′7″ LOA), launched in 1989, was named after 17th-century Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman, who discovered Australia and New Zealand. It was reinforced for travel in ice and spent significant time in Arctic and Antarctic regions. It was also specifically designed for quiet operation that made it particularly valuable for research on whale sounds and other sound-sensitive observations of marine life. In the early 1990s, it hosted not only a variety of scientists but also dedicated bird watchers and ham radio operators and a BBC crew filming the documentary “Life in the Freezer” in Antarctica. In 1991, it transported stranded pilot whales that had been nursed at the New England Aquarium safely back to sea. Throughout the decade, it assisted the South Georgia Whaling Museum, participated in the salvage of the half-sunken whalecatcher Petrel at the abandoned whaling station at Grytviken on South Georgia, and brought back early 20th-century whaling artifacts to the Kendall Whaling Museum in Massachusetts. The archive includes details of the design, building, launch and special features of the Abel-J.
Henry W. Kendall took part in and documented a number of projects on the Abel-J. He was also an expert diver and prolific underwater photographer, sometimes inventing or adapting equipment for his purposes. His diving and underwater photography collection contains diving gear, including some of his innovations, large numbers of his photographs, records of years of diving expeditions and experiments, his books on diving and underwater photography, and archaeological artifacts recovered on dives, including armaments from the British warship HMS Nimrod, which sank off the New England Coast during the war of 1812.