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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department ofVertebrate Zoology

Division of Fishes

Spencer F. Baird
Spencer F. Baird circa 1875
© Smithsonian Institution

G. Brown Goode and Tarleton H. Bean

Oceanic Ichthyology, a Treatise on the Deep-sea and Pelagic Fishes of the World, Based Chiefly upon the Collections Made by the Steamers Blake, Albatross, and Fish Hawk in the Northwestern Atlantic
(Washington, 1896)


As late as 1875, almost nothing was known about the fishes that lived beyond the limits of the continental shelf and those that lived in the open ocean away from the coast. In the two decades that followed, specially equipped research vessels probed the depths and began bringing new and strange fishes to the surface. The British Challenger expedition of 1873-1876 was the first major effort to study the deep sea on a world-wide basis. Studies in the United States began in 1877, when Alexander Agassiz took charge of the biological work of the Coast Survey steamer Blake. He augmented the standard dredges with trawl nets and began to collect fishes in deep water. Shortly thereafter, the Fish Commission's station in Gloucester, Massachusetts began receiving strange fishes collected on the offshore banks by commercial fishermen. Work accelerated sharply in 1883, when the Fish Commission steamer Albatross, designed to trawl in the deepest parts of the ocean, was launched. Knowledge of deep-sea fishes increased exponentially, and important collections were built up. Oceanic Ichthyology by Goode and Bean summarized all that had been learned during that period.

Lycodes verrillii
Lycodes verrillii
Plate 79, Oceanic Ichthyology by G.B. Goode and T.H. Bean

At the time of the publication of Oceanic Ichthyology, Goode was the Smithsonian Assistant Secretary in charge of the U.S. National Museum, and Bean the Director of the New York Aquarium. Bean, the first Curator of Fishes (1879-1895) at the Smithsonian, had just left Washington the previous year to assume his new position in New York. In preparation since 1881, this is one of the classic works of marine biology and one that is still consulted by scientists today. Oceanic fishes, as defined by the authors, include "those deep sea and pelagic species which dwell in the open ocean far from the shore, either at the surface, at the bottom, beyond a depth of 500 feet, or, if such fishes there be, the intermediate zones." The book covers not only the fishes of the North Atlantic but also the deep-sea fishes of other oceans that had been described by various scientists. It represents a summary of what was known about these fishes at the end of the 19th century.

The authors tell the reader how they became interested in the study of deep-sea fishes in the summer of 1877, when the first specimens were caught during an expedition sponsored by the U.S. Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries:

"This took place in the Gulf of Maine, 44 miles east of Cape Ann, on the 19th of August, when from the side of the U.S. Fish Commission's steamer Speedwell the trawl net was cast in 160 fathoms of water. The writers were both standing by the mouth of the net when, as the seaman lifted the end of the bag, two strange forms fell out on the deck. A single glance was enough to tell us that they were new to our fauna, and probably unknown to science. They seemed like visitors from another world, and none of the strange forms which have since passed through our laboratory have brought half as much interest and enthusiasm." (Introduction, p. v-vi.)

The new deep-sea fishes were later named Macrurus bairdii and Lycodes verrillii. Both specimens are still a part of the collections of the Fish Division at the Smithsonian. The authors described 147 new species and 49 new genera of fishes.

Oceanic Ichthyology was published in three editions, identical except for the title page and the notes preceding the Introduction. One was published as Special Bulletin No. 2 of the United States National Museum; another as Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Vol. 30, No. 981; and the third as Memoirs of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Vol. 22. Although the title pages are dated 1895, all three editions were actually published in mid-1896.

The well-known American ichthyologist and educator, David S. Jordan acknowledged the influence of Oceanic Ichthyology on his own monumental work on American fishes. "The Fishes of North and Middle America which closely followed Oceanic Ichthyology," he said, "would never have been written except for my friend's [Goode's] repeated insistence and help."

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