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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department ofVertebrate Zoology

Division of Fishes

Albatross dredging The Albatross dredging. Photo from Townsend, C. H. 1901, U. S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. Report of the Commissioner for the Year Ending June 30, 1900. Plate I.

Collections of the Philippines Expedition

Illustration showing the angle and scope of the dredge rope used on the Albatross Illustration showing the angle and scope of the dredge rope used on the Albatross. Source: Tanner, Z. L. 1897, Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission. v. 16, p. 363.
Illustration showing the angle and scope of the dredge rope used on the Albatross. Source: Tanner, Z. L. 1897, Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission. v. 16, p. 363.

The massive collections brought back from the Philippines by the Albatross were unprecedented in their volume and scope. They were deposited at the Smithsonian Institution where they remain to this day. The fishes were kept in the care of the Bureau of Fisheries until 1921, when they were formally accessioned into the Smithsonian's Division of Fishes. They comprise approximately 27,000 catalogued lots, a lot being one species (one or more specimens) collected at one place and one time. The total number of specimens is probably between 100,000 and 150,000. The Philippine lots represent between seven and eight percent of the entire catalogued collection of the Division of Fishes today. In 1910, when the last of the Philippine material was returned to Washington, there were fewer than 70,000 catalogued lots of fishes in the museum. In other words, the fishes from the Philippine expedition equaled nearly 40 percent of the entire existing collection! It was the largest single accession of fishes ever received by the museum.

The collections are as important qualitatively as they are quantitatively. The Albatross explored waters that had never been sampled before and, in many cases, have never been sampled again. Some of the fishes taken by the Albatross have never been collected since. For example, the peculiar congrid eel, Congrhynchus talabonoides, was described from three specimens collected by the Albatross. This species has never been collected again, and were it not for the Albatross we would not know it existed.

<em>Congrhynchus talabonoides</em>
Congrhynchus talabonoides Fowler, USNM 92350, Holotype. Photo credit: Sandra Raredon.
Congrhynchus talabonoides Fowler, USNM 92350, Holotype. Photo credit: Sandra Raredon.

The same is true of another congrid eel, Bathyuroconger parvibranchialis; the Albatross collected several specimens, but the species has never been taken again.

<em>Bathyuroconger parvibranchialis</em>
Bathyuroconger parvibranchialis Fowler, USNM 93376, Paratype. Photo credit: Sandra Raredon.
Bathyuroconger parvibranchialis Fowler, USNM 93376, Paratype. Photo credit: Sandra Raredon.

Larval cardinal fishes from Philippines collections
Larval cardinal fishes from Philippines collections. Photo credit: D. G. Smith.
Larval cardinal fishes from Philippines collections. Photo credit: D. G. Smith.

The material is in good condition, in spite of its age and the fact that it was not fixed in formalin before being preserved in alcohol. Even delicate larval fishes have stood up well over time. These young cardinal fishes to the right were collected in a plankton net by the Albatross; the distinctive markings are still clearly visible. Over a hundred years after the expedition departed, the collections are still a valuable resource and providing grist for scientific studies. In that sense, although the ship and the men who served on her are long gone, the story of the Philippine Expedition lives on.

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