Expeditions and Discoveries Sponsored Exploration and Scientific Discovery in the Modern Age

Albatross Expeditions to the Pacific, 1891, 1899–1900, 1904–1905

Alexander Agassiz made three expeditions aboard the Albatross to collect specimens, explore the ocean depths, and study coral islands and reefs. The US Fish Commission built the Albatross in 1882 as a scientific research vessel to investigate fish populations and make hydrographic surveys. Agassiz was invited to use the Albatross for three scientific expeditions between 1891 and 1905 in exchange for paying for coal, equipment, and other running costs.

The 1891 Expedition

Agassiz used the Albatross to collect specimens in the intermediate depths of the eastern Pacific Ocean and study the relationship between marine life forms on either side of the Isthmus of Panama. The tows made on the expedition employed special closing nets to measure accurately the depth at which specimens were collected. Samuel Garman worked up the expedition’s fish collection at the Museum of Comparative Zoology and described over 170 new species in his report.

The 1899-1900 Expedition

Agassiz led a second expedition on the Albatross to the islands and atolls of the South Pacific in order to investigate coral island and reef formation. The ship’s crew made soundings and collected specimens from as deep as 4,137 fathoms, the deepest haul on record at the time. The Albatross sounded a vast underwater basin in the central Pacific, which Agassiz named "Moser Deep" in honor of the ship’s commander, Jefferson Moser.

The 1904-1905 Expedition

Agassiz made a final trip on the Albatross in 1904–1905 under the command of L.M. Garrett to explore a relatively unknown area of the eastern tropical Pacific between South America and Easter Island. Tows in the Humboldt Current collected an abundant range of marine life. Henry Bryant Bigelow, an assistant on the expedition, made several watercolor drawings of medusae and siphonophores collected in the Pacific.

Selected Manuscripts and Records in Expeditions and Discoveries

Selected Publications


The following sources were used in writing this page.

  • Agassiz, G.R., Ed. Letters and Recollections of Alexander Agassiz: With a Sketch of His Life and Work. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913.
  • Dobbs, David. Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral. New York: Pantheon, 2005.
  • Hedgpeth, Joel W. "The Steamer Albatross." The Scientific Monthly. 5:1 (July, 1947): 17–22.
  • Mills, Eric L. "Alexander Agassiz, Carl Chun and the Problem of the Intermediate Fauna." M. Sears and D. Merriman, eds. Oceanography: The Past. New York: Springer, 1980.
  • Summers, Adam P., Karsten E.Hartel, and Thomas J. Koob. "Agassiz, Garman, Albatross, and the Collection of Deep-Sea Fishes." M. Sears and D. Merriman, eds. Marine Fisheries Review. 61:4 (1999): 58–68.