Scientific Explorations: The Albatross
The Philippines Expedition: 1907-1910
In 1907, at the age of 25 years, the Albatross was given the biggest assignment of her career: a two-and-a-half-year survey of the aquatic resources of the Philippine Islands. The United States had gained control of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the bloody Philippine insurrection of 1899-1903. By the middle of the first decade of the 20th century, the situation had stabilized to the point where more peaceful activities could be considered, among them a study of the natural resources of the islands. In spite of her age, the Albatross was still the most suitable research vessel in the American fleet -- perhaps in the entire world -- for undertaking such a survey. The magnitude of the Philippine operation dwarfed anything the ship had done before. The Philippine archipelago extends approximately 1,100 miles north to south, and almost 700 miles east to west. It comprises some 7,100 separate islands, ranging from mountainous mini-continents like Luzon and Mindanao to scraps of rock barely awash at high tide. The ecological diversity is equally great: rocky shores, coral reefs, mangroves, estuaries, deep ocean basins, and freshwater lakes and rivers. All had to be surveyed.
The Albatross carried a crew of more than 70 officers and men of the United States Navy, but the scientific crew was surprisingly small. Only six civilian scientists were aboard when the expedition began. The director of the expedition was Hugh McCormick Smith, then Deputy Commissioner of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries. Also aboard were the resident Naturalist, Frederick M. Chamberlain; Lewis Radcliffe and Harry C. Fasset from the Bureau of Fisheries; Paul Bartsch, official representative of the Smithsonian Institution; and Clarence Wells, Clerk. Smith, Radcliffe, and Bartsch left the expedition during 1908 and were replaced at various times by Alvin Seale of the Philippine Bureau of Science, Albert Barrows of the Bureau of Fisheries, and Roy Chapman Andrews of the American Museum of Natural History.
The ship left San Francisco on 16 October 1907 and arrived in Manila on 28 November, after stops at Hawaii, Midway, and Guam. Manila became her home port for the next two years. From there, she made a series of cruises to various parts of the archipelago. In addition to the Philippines proper, coverage was extended to Hong Kong and Taiwan in the north, and to what was then the Dutch East Indies in the south. A variety of collecting methods was used in order to sample as broadly as possible the aquatic fauna and flora. There were bottom trawls of various kinds, dredges, midwater trawls, plankton nets, beach seines, gill nets, handlines and night lights. Reef fishes were usually collected with explosives, a practice rarely employed by biologists today. Many valuable specimens were obtained by simply buying them from local fishermen or in markets.
After the collections were brought on board, they had to be processed. This involved sorting the specimens, preserving them in alcohol, and recording all the relevant collection data (where, when, and how they were collected, what kind of gear, ecological habitat, water temperature, etc.) By the time the Albatross returned to San Francisco on 4 May 1910, she had made 487 bottom trawls, 272 dynamite stations, 117 pelagic tows, 102 seine hauls, 75 night light stations, 17 gill net collections, six poison stations (copper sulphate, used in tide pools), three traps, one handline, and numerous market purchases.
The Philippine expedition was the greatest single achievement of the Albatross and one of the most successful and productive oceanographic expeditions of all time. It was also the climax of her career. She continued in service for another 11 years, but never again would she undertake such a monumental task.
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