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the origins and early history of the steamer albatross, 1880 - 1887
by Dean C. Allard

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Figure 2 - A. The fisheries and oceanographic research steamer ALABATROSS. B. The 25-foot Herreshoff steam gig. C. The 26.5 foot Herreshoff steam cutter. The ALBATROSS also carried a 28-foot seine boat; a 26-foot whale boat; and an 18-foot, 2-inch dinghy.

another scientific target of the Fish Commission. Baird’s new interests reflected the growing conviction by European and American scientists that the deep oceans contained an abundance of life.

Contributing to this belief was the material gathered during the round-the-world cruise of the British HMS Challenger in 1872–76.

During 1877–79, Alexander Agassiz made two cruises to the Caribbean and in 1880 one to Mid Atlantic and New England waters in the U.S. Coast Survey steamer Blake. Agassiz (1888) returned with valuable collections, some from as deep as 2,400 fathoms. During the same period, the Speedwell, a U.S. Naval ship assigned to Baird’s Fish Commission, and the Fish Hawk (Fig. 4), a Commission hatchery vessel that could dredge in mid-depth waters, took rich hauls in the northwest Atlantic.

The excitement created by the fauna collected in 1877 from 144 fathoms by the Speedwell, at a point about 40 miles east of Cape Ann, Mass., was suggested by one of Baird’s principal scientific assistants, George Brown Goode (Fig. 5). Goode exclaimed that “it seems incredible that American naturalists should not then have known that a few miles away there was a fauna as unlike that of our coast as could be found in the Indian Ocean or the seas of China(2).” Addison E. Verrill (Fig. 6), the Fish Commission’s senior scientist, was equally impressed by the Fish Hawk’s collecting activity in 1880 in waters 100–500 fathoms deep and about 100 miles off Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island. Verrill (1884:391) asserted that this area was “the richest and most remarkable ground ever discovered on our coast.”

In 1881–82, Spencer Baird continued to use the Fish Hawk to dredge in waters as deep as 780 fathoms, primarily along the Gulf Stream Slope (Smith, 1888:915–932; Linton, 1915:741–744). But as soon as the Fish Hawk’s initial deep-sea work was completed in the fall of 1880, Baird decided to seek a far more capable research vessel. By December 1880 the Fish Commissioner could share his plans with Addison Verrill. Baird told his chief scientist that his new ship would have excellent

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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