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