working day at the Fisheries Laboratory usually started with
a collecting trip to fish traps, or for dredging or taking plankton
samples. The small coal-burning steamer Phalarope (fig. 27),
under the command of Capt. R. N. Veeder, was used for this purpose.
Fisheries biologists and MBL investigators interested in making
a trip were welcome. A group desiring to get aboard usually
gathered by 9:00 a.m. at the Fisheries dock. Many persons wanted
to watch the dredging or seining and were not concerned with
obtaining the material. Robert A. Goffin, collector for the
Fisheries Laboratory, and two fish culturists formed the collecting
With the exception of long trips, which sometimes lasted the
whole day, the Phalarope would return about noontime; early
enough for the participants to change and be ready for their
luncheon, which was served by the MBL messhall sharply at 1:30
p.m. the collecting trip became so popular, especially when
the weather was good, that the number of passengers on board
had to be restricted to conform to the safety regulations enforced
by the Coast Guard. If something exciting happened during the
trip, for instance the catch of a big shark or large moonfish,
everybody would dash to one side of the vessel and cause a dangerous
list. In later years, Capt. Veeder refused to take more than
20 persons aboard.
In addition to the material needed for research at the Fisheries
and collected by the scientists themselves or under their supervision,
the Phalarope brought live fishes for the aquarium, which was
open to the public every day of the week. The aquarium was operated
by the Superintendent of the Station with the assistance of
Among the most spectacular persons occupying laboratory space
during this period was Nathan Augustus Cobb (fig. 32), acting
Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Plant Nutrition of the Department
of Agriculture and later principal nematologist of the Bureau.
His outstanding contributions to the taxonomy, anatomy, and
microscopic structure of nematodes made him known to a wide
circle of scientists in the world. From 1924 to the last year
of his life in 1932, he worked every summer at Woods Hole, spending
long hours at the microscope and often quitting only late at
night. He is remembered by his friends and acquaintances as
a tall, slender man with thick moustaches, always clad in a
khaki laboratory coat. His scientific interests centered around
the nematodes, a group of animals which he probably knew better
than any other nematologist of his time. To those in the Laboratory
who were interested in his work, he revealed his ideas of the
tremendous importance of this group of worms. The highly specialized
nature of his work did not narrow his point of view as a scientist
but permitted him to use nematodes for attacking major biological
problems such as heredity, phylogeny, adaptation, and parasitism.
A scientific discussion with Cobb revealed his broad philosophical
approach to science. Nemas to him were not the goal but only
the means and tools for seeking solutions to broad scientific
Every summer toward the end of June the arrival of Cobb at Woods
Hole was preceded by the appearance of two men from the Department
of Agriculture, one of them a carpenter, the other a mechanic.
Their duty was to set up equipment consisting of specially constructed
rotating tables divided into several sectors for microscopes
with lamps, and open compartments for notebooks and pencils.
An elaborate system of black curtains having certain parts that
opened and closed by pulling a rope, placed within easy reach
of the microscopist, was set in a corner of the room. This section
of the room was reinforced with paired steel girders driven
through the first floor and foundation of the laboratory and
into the ground. Vibrations of the building caused by passing
automobiles were completely eliminated by this arrangement.
The columns supported a heavy board for the microscope and camera
lucida. One of the unique features of the equipment was a specially
designed head rest, molded individually to support the head
in a fixed position while making camera lucida drawings. Cobb's
equipment, assembled every summer in the Fisheries Laboratory,
looked exactly like that shown in the drawing that accompanied
the publication (fig. 33) describing this technique (Cobb, 1916).
By the time the complex installation was finished, Cobb appeared,
accompanied by his assistants (junior nematologists) Edna M.
Buhrer, Charlotte E. Sprennel, Josephine F. Danforth and others.
Since no living accommodations were available for girls in the
government quarters, the charming ladies rented rooms in the
village but participated in the social gatherings which were
held about once a week at the residence.
Cobb's laboratory work was extraordinarily well organized, and
various operations were divided among his assistants. He developed
special techniques for examining live or unstained material,
and for making whole mounts of worms made transparent by glycerin
or other media. One of the assistants was busy in making such
preparations and placing them on stages of the microscopes set
on the round table. When this was done, Cobb began examining
them one after another and pushing the table around. The notes
referring to each slide were placed in a compartment under each
microscope. They were immediately collected by one of the girls,
typed, and placed in the same order on another round table.
Cobb developed great skill in the use of camera lucida for illustrating
the minute details of structure , which are usually destroyed
by ordinary reagents. The artist assisting him worked on drawings
which later appeared in his papers. One of these illustrations
attracted attention of all the members of the Laboratory. It
was an anatomical drawing of a free-living marine nematode,
Metoncholaimus pristiurus, common in the muddy bottom of Woods
Hole harbor a little below tide level. This nema is particularly
suitable for use in laboratory courses in zoology because it
can be examined alive or in temporary mounts in lactophenol
and five percent potassium hydrate. The original drawing consisted
of a number of sheets, each about two feet long. By the end
of the summer they were they were all pasted together making
a composite more than 12 feet long in which the structural details
of highly complex systems of organs were depicted in various
colors. The black and white reproduction of this illustration
can be found in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences
(Cobb, 1932). It is hoped that the original masterpiece has
not been lost. The anatomical description of this nema, accompanied
by drawings, is used at the summer course of Invertebrate zoology
given by the MBL, and several bound copies of this paper are
kept in the library as an aid to the students.
Daily contact with this remarkable man showed other facets of
his personality- unshaken dignity, frankness combined with courtesy,
and a keen sense of humor. He frequently composed delightful
verses which, to the extreme joy of his audience, he read at
the end of his scientific addresses.
In 1924 and 1925, Willis H. Rich, in charge of the Division
of Inquiry, was the summer Director. He remained at Woods Hole
for the entire summer season, from June 22 to September 12.
Among the new persons who availed themselves of the use of the
Fisheries Laboratory were F.G. Hall of Milton College, Wisc.,
who, with his collaborators Samuel Lepkofsky and I.E. Gray,
started a long-continued program of studies of fish respiration.
Gray's work was primarily concerned with the chemical composition
of fish blood. Baldwin Lucke, Professor of Pathology, School
of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, an outstanding
student of fish tumours, worked on the mechanism of vital staining
and cellular degeneration.
Investigations for the Bureau of Fisheries were carried on by
P.S. Galtsoff, who studied the effect of external factors on
survival of oyster larvae and continued to work with the assistance
of Eugenia Galtsoff on regeneration and dedifferentiation in
sponges. The work on oyster larvae was the result of observations
made during the survey of Long Island, which showed that industrial
pollution may be a factor in the failure of setting of oysters
in the waters along the northwestern shores of the Sound. Dr.
and Mrs. Charles J. Fish remained in residence the year around
and continued their studies of seasonal distribution of plankton
and the identification of young fishes. During the month of
July (1925), O.E. Sette, Assistant in charge of Fishery Industries
of the Bureau of Fisheries, carried on laboratory and field
investigations of mackerel. Francis Staff, Director of Fisheries
in Warsaw, Poland, visited the Laboratory and spent 10 days
acquainting himself with American fishes and methods of fishing.
In the summer of 1926, the position of the Director of the Laboratory
was occupied by J.O. Snyder, Professor of the Department of
Zoology of Stanford University. Research on mackerel was conducted
by Sette; C.J. Fish started a study of the life history of young
cod fish. Galtsoff, with the assistance of Henry Federighi and
H. Richard Seiwell, initiated experimental studies on the physiology
of oyster feeding. They gave special attention to the effect
of temperature on the on the ciliary motion of the gill epithelium
(Galtsoff, 1928) and made observations on oyster culture in
Wellfleet Harbor, Mass. Laboratory facilities were again made
available to Cobb, Wilson, and Linton for their respective work.
W.C. Schroeder, aquatic biologist of the Bureau, stationed at
the Museum of Comparative Zoology in Cambridge, worked on the
life histories of the Gadidae and migrations of the cod (Schroeder,
In 1927-28, the newly appointed Assistant in charge of the Division
of Scientific Inquiry, Elmer Higgins, served as Director of
the Laboratory. He worked on the material previously collected
by him on the life histories of shore fishes of the South Atlantic
states. The new fishery project initiated in this period was
the study of life histories of Sciaenidae, by John C. Pearson.
The mackerel investigation by Sette was conducted with the assistance
of Edward W. Bailey, Lee G. Kendall, Samuel L. Leonard, James
A. Halstead, and Elizabeth Deichmann of Radcliffe College.
Oyster research under Galtsoff was expanded in 1927 to include
observations on the effect of free chlorine on water propulsion,
and on sensory stimulation by chemicals. The latter part was
conducted by A.E. Hopkins, who continued this work through the
winter. Oyster cultural investigation in the field was carried
on by Earle B. Perkins.
Studies of oyster physiology conducted in 1928 were concerned
primarily with the metabolism of normal and green-colored oysters.
Dorothy V. Whipple of Johns Hopkins Medical School and H.B.
Pease, student at Harvard University, assisted Galtsoff with
the laboratory work.
Numerous repairs and improvements were made during the season.
A new laboratory room for biochemistry was equipped on the third
floor of the building; an oceanographical laboratory was refinished
and the storeroom entirely rebuilt and re-equipped. All these
alterations materially increased the usefulness and efficiency
of the Laboratory.
The summer season of 1928 was marked by a series of special
lectures given in the living room of the residence and attended
by a large and appreciative audience of Woods Hole biologists.
The lectures were by Galtsoff on "The Chemistry of the Sea";
F.G. Hall on "Respiration of Fishes" A.G. Huntsman, Director
of the Atlantic Biological Station at St. Andrews, New Brunswick,
on "Limiting Factors in the Sea"; and H.B Bigelow on "Oceanography
and Fisheries." This very successful season ended with the Annual
convention of the National Association of Fishery Commissioners,
held on September 7 and 8. The sessions were attended by 75
persons from various Atlantic states. Hon. Charles W. Gifford,
congressman of the Cape Cod district and a good friend of the
Laboratory, addressed the opening session. Exhibits arranged
for the occasion by the Laboratory comprised 29 different items
showing the method of studying the physiology of feeding and
reproduction of the oyster; oyster culture; anatomy of the oysters
and depredation caused by oyster drills.
In the years between 1912 and 1928, a great deal of research
in oceanic fisheries was conducted for the Bureau of Fisheries
by Henry B. Bigelow of Harvard University (fig. 34). Although
not employed by the Bureau, he was a frequent visitor to the
Fisheries Station and exerted a great deal of influence on the
type of research conducted by the Bureau. To the members of
the Laboratory he was known as a witty person and devoted scientist,
determined to conduct observations in the open ocean in spite
of the great personal discomfort of working on small vessels
in bad winter storms. He was a pioneer explorer of physical
oceanography, plankton, and fishes of the Bureau (Bigelow, 1926,
1927, 1931) and fundamental work on fishes of the Gulf of Maine
made jointly with Schroeder (Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953) remain
a source of most valuable information. From 1931 to 1940 he
was the first Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
In 1929, Sette (fig. 35), in charge of the North Atlantic Fishery
Investigations, became Director of the Laboratory and served
in this capacity until 1931. His laboratory studies on young
mackerel and experimental tagging and schooling of mackerel
comprised a part of a comprehensive investigation which later
on was summarized in two large papers (Sette, 1943, 1950). The
permanent office of the North Atlantic Fish-Hole was used as
temporary headquarters for the mackerel investigations, which
Sette conducted with the assistance of E.W. Bailey and George
L. Clarke. Studies on the physiology of oyster and oyster culture
by Galtsoff and experiments on respiration in fishes by Hall
and his group were continued. As usual, Cobb with a large staff
occupied part of the laboratory, and Paul S. Conger pursued
taxonomic studies of local diatoms. The laboratory accommodations
were extended gratis to several independent investigators not
connected with the government institutions: A.J. Dalton- development
of pelagic fish eggs; K.W. Foster- adaption of Fundulus to a
blue background; R. Macdonald, Mary Sears, and Alice Beale-
coastal plankton; W.E. Bullington- spiral movements of the ciliate
Frontonia; E. Linton- parasites of fishes; J.C. Hemmeter- histology
of pancreas in Lophius; and C.E. Cummings with two assistants
used the Laboratory for making wax models of local fishes.
In 1931, an unusually large number of fishery biologists of
the Bureau were detailed for summer work at the Station. Among
them were R.O. Smith (oyster investigation); Louelle E. Cable)larval
fishes); William C. Herrington (haddock investigation); L. Worley,
Ernestine Jaffe, and H.J. Kumin (mackerel investigation under
Sette). A.E. Parr, curator of Bingham Oceanographic collection
of Yale University, spent several days gathering material for
studies of the biology of young fish.
In the summer of 1931 the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,
a new research organization, sponsored by the National Academy
of Sciences, began its worldwide exploration of the sea.
The Act of Incorporation and the recommendation of the Committee
on Oceanography of the Academy of Sciences state the following
purpose of the institution: "Research and instruction in all
branches of oceanography and allied subjects; coordination of
the activities of governmental and private organizations in
oceanography; and providing facilities for visiting investigators."
From the very beginning there was close cooperation between
the new organization and the Bureau of Fisheries, and many research
projects were carried out jointly.
A steady decrease in the research activities of the Fisheries
Laboratory began in 1932 and continued for many years. The Laboratory
still served the needs of the Bureau's investigators, but lack
of funds prevented the extension of its facilities to guest
investigators. The long-established policy of the Bureau in
supporting basic research in marine sciences established by
Baird began to decline and no clear-cut policy with regard to
the use of the station was formulated. As a result of the new
attitude toward the oldest marine station, no summer Director
was appointed. The Station was used by the section of Shellfishes,
Galtsoff in charge; North Atlantic Fishery Investigations, under
Sette; and Middle Atlantic Fisheries Investigation, R.A. Nesbit
in charge. Since no appropriation were available for running
the Laboratory as an independent unit, the current expenses
were absorbed by the three investigations. The oyster investigations,
conducted by Galtsoff, were concerned primarily with the effect
of the time of day on oyster activity, and with the control
of starfishes. Sette used the Albatross II for a study of survival
of mackerel larvae on the offshore grounds; Nesbit conducted
investigation of the year-mark formation on fish-scales. L.G.
Worley used hatchery equipment for an experimental study of
the effect of temperature on the incubation of mackerel eggs.
Experiments in rearing fish larvae were conducted jointly by
Cable and Galtsoff. Parr used the Bureau's vessels in a study
of the abundance and growth of young scup, sea bass, and squeteague.