Fishes of the Philippine Islands

 "As I think back to those lovely tropic islands bright with flower 
and graceful palms floating like giant lilies on a sea of incredible 
blue, seems beyond belief that only a few short months ago 
they could have echoed to the crash of cannons and 
the screams of dying men."  
                        ~ Roy Chapman Andrews, Under a Lucky Star, 1943

We got to see them by a stroke of luck—
having asked after roaming the upper 
exhibit halls of the Smithsonian with no 
trace of specimens we knew were gathered 
by the research ship "Albatross" from 1907 
to 1910. Someone told us the person 
who might know was out to lunch 
but would be back within the hour.
So we returned to the Hall of Fossils,
where the antlers of an Irish elk 
still flourished grandly from its skull, 
and the dull yellow gleam of a wild
cat's saber tooth haloed the air 
with menace or a grin. Finally
we were led to a basement hall
where we could walk through vats
arrayed in rows. Nearly ceiling-high,
grey-glimmering in dim light, they held 
the bodies of fish gathered from Pacific 
waters following American acquisition 
of the Philippines  in 1902. Preserved 
first with injections of ethyl alcohol 
then metal- or linen-tagged, ledger-entried:  
scorpionfish and hatchetfish, red lion fish,
big-eyed and popeyed fish; shad and skate, 
cutthroat trout, bonito and prickleback. All 
manner of spine and stripe, rainbow 
and iridescent; phosphorescent and lantern-
lit, close to a hundred thousand reaped 
with dynamite, dip nets, and traps. 
Then the ship's artist feverishly worked
on color renditions, hundreds at a time.
There they were, in vessels topped up
with formalin or glycerol: much like we
had been, specimens of science 
as well as of that old war.  


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