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Pacific Expeditions of the US Fish Commission Steamer Albatross,
1891, 1899–1900, 1904–1905

The Albatross. From Clippings related to the voyages of the Albatross, 1890–1899 (inclusive), Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University

The Albatross (detail). From clippings related to the voyages of the Albatross, 1890–1899 (inclusive), Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

Map, Explorations of the US Fish Commission steamer Albatross, Cambridge, Mass.: Printed for the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, 1892. Harvard Map Collection, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Alexander Agassiz made three expeditions aboard the Albatross to collect specimens, explore the ocean depths, and study coral islands and reefs. The US Fish Commission built the Albatross in 1882 as a scientific research vessel to investigate fish populations and make hydrographic surveys. Agassiz was invited to use the Albatross for three scientific expeditions between 1891 and 1905 in exchange for paying for coal, equipment, and other running costs.

Agassiz used the Albatross to collect specimens in the intermediate depths of the eastern Pacific Ocean and study the relationship between marine life forms on either side of the Isthmus of Panama. The tows made on the expedition employed special closing nets to measure accurately the depth at which specimens were collected. Samuel Garman worked up the expedition’s fish collection at the Museum of Comparative Zoology and described over 170 new species in his report.

Agassiz led a second expedition on the Albatross to the islands and atolls of the South Pacific in order to investigate coral island and reef formation. The ship’s crew made soundings and collected specimens from as deep as 4,137 fathoms, the deepest haul on record at the time. The Albatross sounded a vast underwater basin in the central Pacific, which Agassiz named "Moser Deep" in honor of the ship’s commander, Jefferson Moser.

Agassiz made a final trip on the Albatross in 1904–1905 under the command of L.M. Garrett to explore a relatively unknown area of the eastern tropical Pacific between South America and Easter Island. Tows in the Humboldt Current collected an abundant range of marine life. Henry Bryant Bigelow, an assistant on the expedition, made several watercolor drawings of medusae and siphonophores collected in the Pacific.

Expeditions and Discoveries Resources on the Albatross Expeditions

Selected Manuscripts and Records in Expeditions and Discoveries

Agassiz, Alexander. Notes from the "Albatross" 1891 Pacific Expedition off the Coasts of Mexico, Central America, and to the Galapagos Islands, 1891. 3 vol. Spec. Coll. MCZ 010. Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Agassiz, Alexander. Notes from the "Albatross" 1899–1900 Expedition to Japan and the South Pacific, 1899–1900. 4 vol. Spec. Coll. MCZ 015. Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Agassiz, Alexander. Notes from the U.S.F.C.S. "Albatross" on Eastern Pacific Expedition, 1904–1905. 4 vol. Spec. Coll. MCZ 017. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Agassiz, Alexander. Agassiz Letter Books, 1859–1910. Spec. Coll. MCZ F890. v.11. Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Agassiz, Alexander. Charts Showing Results of Soundings and Dredging, Panama to Callao, Albatross Expedition, 2–22 November 1904. Spec. Coll. Archives bfAg 10.42.2a. Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Bigelow, Henry Bryant. Drawings of Medusae Made on Board the "Albatross," 1904–1905. Spec. Coll. Archives bMu 293.60.3. Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Bigelow, Henry Bryant. Drawings of Siphonophores Made on Board the "Albatross," 1904–1905. Spec. Coll. Archives bMu 293.60.4. Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

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Selected Publications

Smith, Hugh M. Deep–Sea Exploring Expedition of the Steamer "Albatross", [S.l. : s.n., 1899].
Tanner, Zera Luther. Deep-Sea Exploration: A General Description of the Steamer Albatross, Her Appliances and Methods. Washington: G.P.O., 1897.
Tanner, Zera Luther. Report upon the Investigations of the U.S. Fish Commission Steamer Albatross from July 1, 1889, to June 30, 1891. Washington: G.P.O., 1893.
Tanner, Zera Luther. "Dredging and Other Records of the United States Fish Commission Steamer Albatross: With Bibliography Relative to the Work of the Vessel." Washington: Government Printing Office, 1901.

Albatross Expeditions Resources at Other Sites

Biodiversity Heritage Library

Many of the official scientific reports of the Albatross expeditions were published in The Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Memoirs of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Both serials are currently being digitized by the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Museum of Comparative Zoology Collections Database

Includes specimen records for some of the Albatross collections.

References

The following sources were used in writing this page.

Agassiz, G.R., Ed. Letters and Recollections of Alexander Agassiz: With a Sketch of His Life and Work. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913.
Dobbs, David. Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral. New York: Pantheon, 2005.
Hedgpeth, Joel W. "The Steamer Albatross." The Scientific Monthly. 5:1 (July, 1947): 17–22.
Mills, Eric L. "Alexander Agassiz, Carl Chun and the Problem of the Intermediate Fauna." M. Sears and D. Merriman, eds. Oceanography: The Past. New York: Springer, 1980.
Summers, Adam P., Karsten E.Hartel, and Thomas J. Koob. "Agassiz, Garman, Albatross, and the Collection of Deep-Sea Fishes." M. Sears and D. Merriman, eds. Marine Fisheries Review. 61:4 (1999): 58–68.

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