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

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During the winter and spring of 1884, Baird loaned the Albatross to the U.S. Navy to undertake hydrographic surveys in the Caribbean Sea. These investigations confirmed the existence of a suspected underwater ridge stretching between St. Croix in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and located an extensive shoal (promptly named the Albatross Bank) east of Jamaica (U.S. Navy, 1884:146–147). Equally important, according to the ship’s navigator, these investigations proved the “non-existence” of a number of shoals reported by other mariners in this area (Smith, 1889:937). During the cruise, the ship’s crew also had the secondary mission of collecting biological specimens. Then, from late July to early October of 1884, the ship proceeded to her summer base at Woods Hole. While en route to that location, the ship once again sought to trace the movements of pelagic species between Cape Hatteras and the Gulf of Maine.

drawing of upper lab
Figure 12c. - The upper laboratory.

But the focus of the Albatross’s summer activities was in the deep waters
of the northwest Atlantic. Here, collections and data were obtained from waters as deep as 2,600 fathoms off the coasts of New England, Long Island, and New Jersey. Although Baird continued to observe that one of his purposes was to search for the tilefish along the Gulf Stream Slope, the fundamental contribution made by these oceanic operations was the illumination of the biological and physical characteristics of the deep-ocean environment (Tanner, 1886:78–79; USFC, 1886:xviii;xx)(9).

By this time, work was underway on two important research projects that used many of the materials gathered by the Albatross. One was the effort by Addison Verrill and his associates to study deep-sea invertebrates. Eventually this group published more than 100 papers, most of which appeared after Verrill ended his connection with the Fish Commission following Baird’s death in 1887 (Schopf, 1968:F5–F10; Allard, 1978:337–338). The second undertaking was a two-volume work entitled “Oceanic Ichthyology,” published by the Fish Commission and authored by George Brown Goode and Tarleton H. Bean (1895), two of Baird’s associates at the National Museum.

Goode and Bean acknowledged the utility of the deep-sea specimens that Alexander Agassiz assigned to them after collecting these materials during the Blake’s 1880 cruise north of Cape Hatteras (Agassiz, 1888:I, xx). But they noted that their work rested primarily on specimens collected by the Albatross, supplemented by those from other Fish Commission ships and by Gloucester fishermen.

drawing of dynamo and engine
Figure 13. - The Edison dynamo and Armington & Sims engine.

It is of interest that Goode and Bean (1895) questioned the scientific importance often ascribed to the famed cruise of the Challenger in 1872–76 (Allard, 1978:338–339). In the front matter to “Oceanic Ichthyology” they claimed that the 47 new genera and 147 new species of deep-water fishes described in their work were more numerous than all of the oceanic fishes collected by the Challenger during that ship’s entire world cruise (Goode and Bean, 1895:I, v–vi).

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

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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