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

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The 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 crew.

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 R.A. Goffin.

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 problems.

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, 1930).

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 (WHOI).

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.

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