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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.

The Ship, U.S. Bureau of Fisheries Steamer Albatross

The Albatross
The Albatross. Photo source: Tanner, Z. L. 1897, Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission (for 1896) vol. 16, Plate I.
The Albatross. Photo source: Tanner, Z. L. 1897, Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission. v. 16, Plate I.

The National Museum of Natural History houses the largest collection of preserved fishes in the world. The specimens have been collected from every continent and ocean over the last century and a half. One of the largest single acquisitions was the material collected by the United States Bureau of Fisheries steamer Albatross in the Philippine Islands from 1907 to 1910.

The Albatross was built in 1882 for the U. S. Fish Commission (which became U.S. Bureau of Fisheries in 1903, and now National Marine Fisheries Service). It was the first large ship designed especially for oceanographic research and included laboratories, storage space for specimens, and sophisticated dredging equipment. The Albatross was also the first U.S. government ship to be furnished with electric lighting, which allowed sorting of specimens and related collection work at night. During her nearly forty years of service, scientists on board surveyed the northern Atlantic coast, the Caribbean, the Pacific coast of the U.S., Alaska, Hawaiian Islands, Japan, and the Philippines.

<em>Caesio caerulaurea</em> Lacep├Ęde, 1801; gold-banded fuselier. USNM 191778
Comparison of Kumataro Ito's painting of USNM 191778, with the specimen as it appears today
Caesio caerulaurea Lacep├Ęde, 1801; gold-banded fuselier. USNM 191778, collected at Guntao Island in the Palawan Passage, Philippines, 20 December 1908. Click on image to see comparison of illustration with specimen as it appears today. Photo credit: Sandra Raredon.

The Albatross occupies an important place in history, as her life spanned a period of growth in the marine sciences. Some well-known naturalists served on the Albatross and many young men trained on the research ship became eminent scientists. Over the course of her career, the Albatross collected more marine specimens than any other ship. Most of the material collected was deposited at the Smithsonian Institution, but some can also be found at other museums. These specimens have formed the basis of many scientific papers and are still being studied today.

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