Research Vessel Albatross Launched (1882)

The first ship designed and built to perform deep-sea oceanic research was launched on October 19, 1882.  Albatross ranged the world’s oceans for the next 38 years, making it the first and most effective vessel “to undertake the exhaustive scientific exploration of the ocean.”

Albatross owes its existence to the realization in the mid-1800s that fisheries were being over-exploited in the virtual absence of detailed information about fish populations or the oceans in general.  The United States created the U.S. Fish Commission in 1871, headed by Spencer Fullerton Baird, who was also at the time leading the Smithsonian Institution.  Baird convinced Congress that the nation needed a state-of-the-art fisheries research vessel that could find new stocks of fish, especially in the deep waters off the northeastern Atlantic coast.

Scientific surveys had typically relied on old vessels re-purposed from their primary use as fishing boats or patrol ships to scientific research.  Baird imagined something different—a large ship, powerful enough to haul nets suspended thousands of feet below the surface, outfitted with laboratories and storage facilities for biological specimens and sporting the latest in technology (like electric lights).  Albatross was 234 feet long, carried a crew of 60 plus the scientific staff and could cover 3200 miles in a single voyage.  It carried two massive dredging engines capable of managing more than 24,000 feet of metal towing cable.

The ship was used first in the north Atlantic, where it conducted repeated hydrologic and biological surveys at thousands of established stations in both shallow and deep water.  It was later deployed into the Gulf of Mexico and then the Pacific, conducting cruises from Alaska to the Galapagos to Cape Horn.  Twice—during the Spanish-American War and World War 1—the ship was diverted to wartime uses.  From 1907-1910, Albatross conducted an extended survey of the waters of the Philippines, recently acquired from the Spanish.  That expedition became the second most extensive in the nation’s history, for area covered and time spent.  As many as 100,000 fish specimens were collected.  Scientific study of the collections continues to this day.

Albatross served until being decommissioned in 1921, having sailed for a decade longer than its intended life.  Fisheries scientist Charles Townsend remembered the ship in comments during 1934:

“Her career as a deep-sea exploring ship has been a notable one…[that] extended from the shallow waters of the coast to almost the greatest known depths of the sea…. If ever the American people received the fullest possible value from a government ship, they received it from this one.”

References:

Allard, Dean C.  1999.  The Origins and Early History of the Steamer Albatross, 1880-1887.  Marine Fisheries Review 6(4):1-21.

Anonymous.  1999.  The U.S. Fish Commission Steamer Albatross:  A History.  Marine Fisheries Review 6(4):i-vii.

Smith, David G. and Jeffrey T. Williams.  1999.  The Great Albatross Philippine Expedition and Its Fishes.  Marine Fisheries Review 6(4):31-41.

 

Smithsonian Institution.  Spencer Baird and Ichthyology at the Smithsonian. Available at:  http://vertebrates.si.edu/fishes/ichthyology_history/fish_commission.html.  Accessed October 19, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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