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

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The seaworthy qualities of the Albatross and the comfort of its laboratory facilities and living quarters were admired by a number of other scientists who, in following years, took part in her deep-sea explorations.

Occasionally the Albatross was detailed to Woods Hole, but she never became an integral part of the station. Her life ended here. The ship was decommissioned in October 1921, and laid up at the Bureau's dock at Woods Hole. On June 5, 1924, she was sold at public auction. When the old and friendly ship was being towed away a few older members of the Bureau of Fisheries, who in previous years had been associated with her, watched her final departure with their hearts filled with sadness.

In issuing orders to the commanding officers of the Commission's ships, it was Baird's policy to outline a precise program of the proposed operations and explain their purpose. The following document issued on April 10, 1883, to the commanding officer of the Albatross is a good example of the thoroughness of his planning (Tanner, 1885, p. 119-20).

"Sir: As soon as you can be ready for the service (of which you will give me a week's notice), you will go to sea for the purpose of investigating the conditions which govern the movements of the mackerel, menhaden, bluefish, and other migratory species along the coast of the United States in the spring, commencing your investigations off Hatteras, or in the region where these fish usually make their first appearance, and following up the schools in their movements.

"The special work to be performed will be to determine the rate of progress of the fish along the coast, their comparative abundance and condition, the places where they first show themselves, the physical condition of their surroundings as to temperature and currents of the water, its chemical and biological peculiarities, etc.

"You will endeavor to ascertain whether the appearance of the fish at or near the surface depends upon the condition of temperature, wind or sky, and also, by the use of the apparatus at your command, what character of food in the water seems to determine their movements. You will cause examination to be made of the stomachs of such of these fish as you can capture and carefully preserve a portion at least of the contents of the stomach for immediate or future examination.

"Should you deem it expedient you will cruise off the coast a sufficient distance to determine the outward line of motion of the fish, and you will communicate to such fishing vessels as you may meet any information that may enable them the more successfully to prosecute their labors. The time of this work is left to your discretion. You will whenever you touch at any port of the United States send a telegram to me and await instructions as to further operations, if there be nothing to detain you.

"You will give to the naturalist of the expedition all possible facilities for collecting and preserving such specimens as you may meet during the cruise.

Very respectfully,

Spencer F. Baird, Commissioner

P.S.- The operations of dredging and trawling should be carried on as frequently as opportunity offers; and if no suitable bait can be had, the trawling line should be used for the purpose of determining the currents of desirable fishing grounds."

Baird considered that explorations in the sea should be conducted simultaneously with the laboratory studies on reproduction, development, behavior, and growth of commercially important marine species. He was proud to explain the significance of such research and to demonstrate its methods to other scientists, government officials, and laymen. Being well known and highly respected both in the Congressional and administrative circles of Washington, he was in a position to invite the highest officials to visit Woods Hole. The report of the commanding officer of the Fish Hawk for 1882 (Tanner, 1884b, p. 9-10) contains the following interesting references: "At 9:00 on the morning of the 28th (of June, 1882) the U.S. Steamer Tallapoosa arrived, havong on board the Hon. W.E. Chandler, Secretary of the Navy, and chiefs of bureaus. At meridian we left the harbor with Prof. Baird, the Secretary, and the chiefs of bureaus, for a short trip to show the manner of working the various apparatus used on board. Three casts of the dredge and trawl were made in Vineyard Sound, and at 4:30 p.m. we returned to Woods Holl. The Tallapoosa left the harbor at 9:15 the next morning."

On September 6 of the same year, Woods Hole was visited by the President of the United States, Chester A. Arthur. The official report of the Commanding Officer records this event in the following words: "At 9:30 a.m., September 6, The United States Steamer Despatch, having on board the President of the United States, and accompanied by the Fish Commission steamer Lookout, arrived in the harbor. At meridian we left the harbor with the President, Professor Baird, and others on board. To show the former the manner of working the various apparatus, three hauls of the trawl and dredge were made in Menemsha Bight. We reached port at 5:55 p.m., when the President returned to the Despatch. At 5:00 the next morning the Despatch, with the President on board, got under way and left the harbor." Edwin Linton (1927), at that time a beginner-biologist employed by the Fish Commission, described this event in his reminisces of the Fish Commission: "I remember, on one occasion, the President of the United States was there over night, was given an exhibition trip on the Fish Hawk, and the process of operating the beam trawl was shown him. Now we young assistants, coming as we did from inland, knew nothing at first hand about Presidents and their ways, or of the ways of those who were accustomed to be about them. When we were told that there was to be a collecting trip in the morning we repoerted for duty in our usual unconventional attire. By the time the Fish Hawk was steaming out into Vineyard Sound we made the discovery that officers and crew, and everybody else on board, were each and all dressed in honor of the Chief Executive, all bravely clad, and easy in their minds, except three young men who were having all the disagreeable sensation peculiar to those who dream of like unpleasant experience. I remember yet quite vividly, the appraising look which the Professor gave us just before, as it seemed to us, he decided not to present us to President Arthur."

The work of the Fisheries Laboratory and the operations of the Fish Hawk continued to arouse public curiosity excited by the visits of high officials. Local papers faithfully reported the sailing and returning of the ships and the successes of the collecting as well as the arrivals and departures of Baird. Thus the Cape Cod Item of July 15, 1881, contains the following note: "Our streets present a very animated and business-like appearance with the arrival of the U.S. Fish Commission under the supervision of Prof. Spencer F. Baird of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., who with his family and corps of attendants in quartered in the Webster House, among which are the following: Dr. Tarlton H. Bean, J. Paul Wilson, Herber tGill, Prof. C. Deering, Capt. Herbert Chester of U.S. F. C., Prof. J. Emerton, Prof. A. E. Verrill, Sydney L. Smith, New Haven. The Commission have at their command two steamers, one the Fish Hawk, Z. L. Tanner U. S. N., Commander, for the purpose of going to various points to dredge for specimens, and the Lookout, a fine steam yacht for the purpose of accommodating distinguished visitors. Various lines of telephone will connect the depot, post office, hotel, wharves, and buildings used by the Commission."

In the following days of summer the paper reported (August 19, 1881) that "among important specimens obtained by the U.S. Steamer 'Fish Hawk' on the last trip to Gulf Stream, was a fine octopus or devil-fish, a number of tile fish weighing about 35 pounds each, was also secured, the same being a very rare specimen."

From miscellaneous news items in the paper we learn that Assistant U.S. Fish Commissioner T.B. Ferguson arrived in port on board the U. S. S. Lookout and brought "a large sunfish weighing 300 pounds which was dissected by Dr. Bean who also found many parasites attached to gills." On the 14th of July, we read that the steamer Fish Hawk went to No Mans Island securing four ground fishes. During the trip a trawl net was used collecting many fish, mollusks, crabs, etc. the large number of specimens collected by biologists apparently incited the imagination of the local reporter who on July 29 wrote (Cape Cod Item) that "on last dredging expedition of the U.S.F.C. Fish Hawk 172 barrels of alcohol were used in preserving specimens." In the next issue of this weekly paper a corrected was printed which said "our correspondent wrote 1-1/12 but types read it 172- quite a difference."

News items appearing in the local press are indicative of public interest in the new laboratory, which offered new opportunities for employment and trade, attracted tourists, and in this way became an important factor in the economy of the small village. At the same time the press emphasized the importance of the tourist trade and encouraged the owners of "farm houses to make them attractive to summer visitors." The number of tourists was rapidly increasing as can be judged, for instance, from the following lines in an August 19, 1881, issue of the Cape Cod Item: "Last week Saturday the 4:10 train started from Boston with 18 cars loaded with passengers and about every train since has been filled. Undoubtedly many of them took advantage of the opportunity to visit the marine laboratory of the Fish Commission."

Probably the most significant achievements of marine exploration in the vicinity of Cape Cod were the studies of the invertebrate fauna conducted by Verrill, and described by him in a large number of papers. He strongly believed it to be a duty of a scientist to publish the results of his investigation for the benefit of other scientists. Following this conviction, he produced nearly a hundred scientific articles based on the collections accumulated during his association with the U.S. Fish commission. The majority of the papers appeared in reports attached to the annual reports of the Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries; others were published in the American Journal of Science, the Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, and other journals. The collection of invertebrates made by the Fish Commission from 1871 to 1887 at over 3,000 localities within New England waters comprised several hundred thousands of specimens of more than 2,000 species (Verrill, 1958). The huge collection was taken by Verrill to Yale University in New Haven where he continued to work on it during the winters. As a partial compensation for his work he received the duplicates after the first set of specimens containing all the type specimens and any unique forms had been deposited with the National Museum in Washington, D.C. the second set of duplicates was given to the Museum of Comparative Zoology of Harvard University. Verrill completed the study of the Fish commission collection only in 1908 and, according to the information given in his biography, he sold his set of duplicates to the Peabody Museum of Yale University.

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