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the story of the bureau of commercial fisheries biological laboratory woods hole, massachusetts

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Smith's association with the Woods Hole scientific community was resumed upon his return home from Siam in 1935, when he became Associate Curator in Zoology in the Smithsonian Institution. He acquired property at the corner of Millfield and Gardiner Streets in Woods Hole and established a summer home there. Even while working on his monumental monograph of the Hole fauna, and he was frequently seen in the laboratory of the Bureau of Fisheries. The descriptions of Leiostomus xanthurus and Alectis crinitus, both species new to Massachusetts Bay, were his last contributions to the ichthyology of the Cape Cod area. Biologists working at Woods Hole during the summer of 1935 recall the interesting evening lecture delivered by Smith at the MBL auditorium. He described the aquatic life of Siam he had observed during the 12 years of his explorations. He gave vivid accounts of his close encounters with many poisonous snakes and of the biology of the Siamese fighting fish. Snakes frequently invaded his bedroom at night and found shelter in the sleeves of his coat. He told about the 12-foot python that lived under the house but for more than two months could not be seen, although its presence was known by the tracks left on the sand and by the continuous disappearance of chickens.

Smith's friends throughout the world were saddened by his sudden death on September 29, 1941, from an attack of coronary thrombosis. The appraisal of Smith as a scientist and man given after his death in 1941 by L. Stejneger, Chief Curator of the National Museum, is shared by many zoologists who were privileged to know him personally. "As U.S. Commissioner of Fisheries", writes Stejneger (1941) "Dr. Smith was Baird's worthiest successor. . . . In my heart two pictures stand side by side, Spencer Fullerton Baird and Hugh McCormick Smith; higher tribute I cannot conceive!"

Extensive repairs to the buildings and renovation of equipment were necessary by 1915. This need is reported in the following excerpt from the annual Report of the Commissioner (Smith, 1917, p. 34) which states: "The Woods Hole Laboratory is the oldest station of the Bureau. Its history and its public service are closely linked with that of the Bureau and the earlier Fish Commission for which it once served as temporary quarters. After more than 30 years of usefulness the laboratory building and equipment are not in a commendable state of repair. It is desirable that suitable provision be made for its renovation.

In 1916, R.E. Coker was appointed "Assistant in charge of inquiry respecting food fishes", and later on served as temporary summer Director of the Laboratory. The effects of World War I and the impending participation of the United States in the conflict began to exert their influence on scientific activities. Various investigations at the Woods Hole Laboratory that were in progress in June 1917, were continued only during part of the year. Before the end of the fiscal year a new policy was adopted with regard to the operation of the Bureau's laboratories because "of the necessity of concentrating all efforts, as far as possible, upon the immediate increase of aquatic food supply. " In the following two years, 1918 and 1919, the Laboratory was not opened for general investigations, but concentrated its effort on improvement of methods of preserving fish and on a study of nematode infestation, a question which had a direct bearing on the marketing of fish.

The laboratory was largely occupied by the Navy in 1917-18, and the investigations normally conducted at the station were discontinued or transferred to other points, in 1919, the Navy Department withdrew from the Woods Hole Laboratory and it was reopened under the directorship of P.H. Mitchell. Research activities of this year were concerned primarily with the physiology of oysters, reddening of salt fish caused by bacterial contamination. Edwin Linton was engaged in the studies of fish parasites, and F.E. Chidester carried on laboratory experiments on the behavior of fishes and their migrations.

In March 1920, a wooden building (fig. 31) containing the steam boiler, engineroom, and machine shop burned down. The fire spread across the street and destroyed the dining hall of the Marine Biological Laboratory. Plans for a new brick building were made, and the contract for the construction of a fireproof structure to house the boiler, machine shop, and sea-water pump- at the cost of $51,000- was signed on January 6, 1921. The building, with equipment, was completed during the fiscal year of 1921. Because of the lack of funds for research activities, however, the laboratory was not opened.

In that year Henry O'Malley became the new Commissioner of Fisheries and appointed R.E. Coker Director of the Laboratory for the summer of 1922. Administrative responsibility of the Washington office necessitated Coker's presence at the headquarters, and he spent only the month of July at Woods Hole. The laboratory record for the summer 1922 contains the names of 19 guest investigators working on a great variety of biological problems. Subjects of their inquiry ranged from the studies of diatoms, regeneration of sponges, fish histology, physiology of vision in lobster, parasites of fishes, and haematology of fishes, to the study fo the anatomy and genetics of the fruit fly. The Bureau biologists were engaged in two research projects: hydrographic and biological survey of Long Island Sound conducted by P.S. Galtsoff (recently appointed Naturalist of the Albatross) and seasonal variations in the composition of plankton of Woods Hole waters by Charles J. Fish (instructor in embryology at Brown University and aquatic biologist of the Bureau). The Woods Hole station was used as a base for the operation of the U.S.S. Fish Hawk in Long Island Sound.

One of the guest investigators, Miss Marie Dennis Poland, began a study of the methods of identifying fish eggs and larvae. In 1923 she continued the work as field assistant of the Bureau. And in 1924, while still working with Charles J. Fish on the identification of larval fishes found in plankton, joined him in matrimony. The team of Charles and Marie Fish became well known to the biological community of Woods Hole as a couple deeply devoted to marine research. The paper describing the seasonal distribution of plankton of Woods Hole region (Fish, 1925), summarizes the observations made from samples collected throughout the years by the simple device of suspending a large plankton net from the corner of the wharf where the tides kept it in a horizontal position for several hours.

R.E. Coker resigned his Bureau position in 1923 to become Professor of Zoology in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He continued, however, as a summer Director of the Laboratory from June 22 to September 8. Among the temporary appointees of the Bureau were Charles B. Wilson, working on the collection of copepods of Chesapeake Bay; Paul Visscher of Johns Hopkins University, studying the nature and extent of ship's fouling with special reference to biological aspects (Visscher, 1928); James I. Penney, working on the biology of the wood destroying crustacean Limnoria. The scope of research, as in diatom flora of Woods Hole, by Paul S. Conger of the Caernegie Institution in Washington, to structural development of oral glands of snakes by Albert M. Reese, professor of Zoology of West Virginia University. A considerable part of the Laboratory space on the second floor was occupied by N.A. Cobb, nematologist of the Department of Agriculture in Washington, and his assistants.

The laboratory and living accommodations of the Woods Hole Station were used to their full capacity in 1923. Every working table and every room in the residence were occupied. It was a policy of the Bureau of Fisheries to encourage biological research at the Laboratory, not only by offering laboratory tables free of charge, but also in providing living accommodations for guest investigators that were not needed by the government employees. Because of the increasing scarcity of housing facilities in the village, the privilege of having a room in the residence was highly attractive and the number of summer applications always exceeded the space available in the laboratory and in the residence. It was a difficult duty for the Director to assign the residence rooms. Some of them being large and facing the sea were eagerly sought for, while others- small and facing the street were much less desirable. Somehow the Director was able to distribute the guest investigators in accordance with their scientific status and age. Dissatisfaction and hard feeling were avoided, since the task was performed skillfully and with great tact, as I remember, there was a remarkable spirit of cooperation and friendship among the biologists gathered for a summer session. A great deal of that attitude originated from the summer Director of the Laboratory who, with his family, usually occupied an apartment on the second floor of the residence and used the three large living rooms on the first floor for social gatherings, scientific meetings, and card or chess games enjoyed by the staff and their guests. Meals were taken at the MBL dining hall across the street, where the Fisheries investigators enjoyed the same privileges as those with MBL offered to its research scientists and students, relationships between the two institutions were friendly, and the spirit of cooperation prevailed in the entire scientific community.

The MBL meals were inexpensive , $7,00 a week in the 1920's, and adequate. They were served three times a day, according to a timetable which was strictly observed. It was a serious matter to be late for breakfast, since the village had no restaurants or lunch counters. The doors were promptly closed, and late comers were not admitted. The arrangement was necessary because many of the waiters and waitresses were students of the MBL courses and could not be late for their classes. Meals were served in a family style, each person occupying his assigned place at a table set for 12. Seating arrangements were the responsibility of Miss Isobelle Downing, affectionately known to everybody as Miss Belle, who for several decades supervised the messhall, directed the serving, and maintained strict discipline. The allocation to different tables required tact and a remarkable memory which helped Miss Belle to arrange her customers in congenial groups. The MBL messhall was an important social factor in the life of Woods Hole, since there was no other place where the people could meet and chat. By 7:00 p.m., when the doors were closed and only a few persons remained inside finishing their dinner, several groups were formed on the porch to spend about an hour in conversation and relaxation.

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