Collecting Evolution: The 19051906 Galapagos Expedition of the California Academy of Sciences

Matthew J. James, Ph.D.
Sonoma State University

Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Pacific Forum – 3:00 p.m.

Copyright - Archives, California Academy of Sciences

In June 1905, the California Academy of Sciences sent an expedition to the Galapagos Islands to collect a broad cross-section of the archipelago’s plants and animals. The expedition consisted of 11 men, eight young sailor-scientists and three crewmembers, aboard the 89-foot schooner Academy. At that time, there was a widely held belief that the organisms, particularly the giant tortoise, were “fast disappearing” from the islands. Unless collected, these species would go extinct before being documented for science. Convinced that the organisms were better dead and preserved in a museum than left to the whims of feral animals and reckless humans, the scientists collected as many specimens as possible. Lasting 17 months, the expedition returned to San Francisco with over 70,000 biological specimens, more than any Galapagos expedition in history. During the expedition, the tragic April 18, 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed the Cal Academy on Market Street, making the Galapagos collection invaluable for rebuilding the museum at its present location in Golden Gate Park.

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