Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Prince Albert of Monaco as an Oceanographer

By Frank C. Randall

Prince Albert of Monaco, age 26
It is not often that nobility, still more seldom royalty, devotes itself to scientific pursuits, that is, with any degree of seriousness; but there is one striking exception to this rule in His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Monaco. For nearly fifteen years the man who rules over the smallest mon­archy on the face of the globe has found much to occupy his attention in scientific fields, and has not only labored energetically in his chosen field of in­vestigation, but has expended enormous sums of money in the attainment of his ends.

Oddly enough, this royal scientist has made the sea the field for his scientific work, and, more oddly still, he has at­tained results that astound older in­vestigators of the wonders of nature that are covered by the oceans of the globe. "Oceanography" is the name of the science to which the prince has devoted himself almost continuously during the past fifteen years. During that period he has learned of the won­ders of the sea, of its inhabitants and their characteristics, and he has pub­lished essays by the dozen detailing, for the benefit of other students, the results of his work. What he has done for science will be better known to the generations that will come after him, and will be a benefit to the seamen of all times.

It is striking indeed that such work should be undertaken by the man whose income is derived from the gaming tables of Monte Carlo, for the syndicate that controls the rouge et noir and other diversions of that lively little resort furnishes the sole support of the Monaco monarchy.

French country seat of Prince Albert of Monaco
The deep-sea investigations of Prince Albert were begun in 1885. The work was undertaken in a small sailing schooner of two hundred tons, the Hirondelle. In this craft the prince explored the Atlantic as far as the coast of Newfoundland and to a depth of sixteen hundred fathoms. The ship was provided with no special apparatus, all work being done by the crew, which numbered fourteen men: Later on the prince, becoming more deeply interested in the exploration of the depths of the ocean, provided him­self with a steam vessel of five hundred and sixty tons, the Princess Alice. He has within the past year completed another steam vessel of fourteen hundred tons, also called the Princess Alice, of which an illustration accompanies this article. This ship is magnificently fit­ted out for the work for which she was intended. Dynamos supply the ship with light, and a freezing machine is used for the preservation of specimens taken from the bottom of the sea. Cables and windlasses, and every manner of mechanical device that could be of any possible assistance, are provided, and all of these devices are of the most modern construction. In fact, the Princess Alice is in herself a scientific expedition of no mean sort, and her crew is made up of men whose interest in scientific affairs is almost as intense as that of her owner.

Monaco and Monte Carlo
Prince Albert's first study of the ocean was confined to the currents of the Atlantic, and he made maps follow­ing the lines of his experiments which are to-day consulted as authorities by seamen and scientists alike. Beyond discovering the currents themselves and separating them, Prince Albert also settled, as nearly as possible, the speed of the flow of these currents, and his figures thereon are still au­thoritative.

It was after he had pursued his studies of currents as far as possible that Prince Albert undertook the study of animal life at the bottom of the sea, and through his researches in this direc­tion he has become an authority with­out a peer. His scientific bureau in Paris contains his manuscripts, his printed works and specimens without number, all of them resulting from his tireless, energetic execution of the work which he undertook as a mere pastime fifteen years ago. He has photographed the bottom of the sea, he has analyzed sea water taken from all depths, and he has preserved all sorts of specimens of animal life taken from the varying depths at which he has worked. He has invented ap­paratus without which the work of other investigators would be greatly hindered. Principal among these are a sounding machine and an instrument for studying the density of water.

Monte Carlo as seen from the distance
The prince is an inveterate "sea-trapper," and by the aid of a specially contrived mechanism he has taken from all depths specimens of the distinctive fauna of each stratum of the ocean, in addition to which he has taken the plant life of the bottom of the ocean as well. He has found new kinds of shell­fishes as well as the finned variety, and crabs that have never yet been led into the traps of less scientific fisher­men. In parts of the Mediterranean where it was supposed that there was no animal life at certain depths, the prince's net has brought to the surface dozens of small sharks.

The prince declares that the most difficult regions of deep-sea exploration are the intermediate depths between the surface and the bottom, because of the fact that the animals existing there are of such a suspicious and active character that they easily escape the apparatus of the investigator, no matter how cleverly it is constructed.

Among the many trophies collected by the royal scientist are a number of rare specimens of representatives of the animal life of the sea that have never yet been obtained by other explorers of the depths of the ocean. These are of the smallest and also of the largest, both of shellfish and of vertebrate ani­mals, whose lives are spent in salt water.

The prince's study of whales has been deep and exhaustive, and not the least interesting feature of one of his papers on sea exploration is an account of an encounter with a school of sperm whales in the Mediterranean off Monaco.

Casino at Monte Carlo
Sperm whales, from what the prince says, are fighters, and their efforts are often directed toward the defense of their kind. The first whale, he says, was struck with a harpoon. While in its dying struggles two other whales came up to the boat and swam round and round, sometimes so near that the men in the boat could touch their backs with their hands. The boat was given up to the keeping of the great fishes, and for an hour the prince and his boat's crew of seventeen men were engaged in a struggle with the dying whale and his fellows. A second whale was killed before the third surrendered to the force of numbers and the superiority of human intellect.

In his cruises the prince notes es­pecially the intensity of life appearing on the surface of the ocean at certain hours of the day. Large fishes, he says, go hunting for their prey at morning and at evening, and the shoals of smaller fishes at these times cover the sea over such a large area that ves­sels steam or sail for hours across these bodies of life. Under every piece of floating wreckage, logs or barrels, he adds, there are always found fishes of good size and different species. Having, during his cruises, picked up several starving shipwrecked crews, the prince wonders that these famished men did not exert themselves to provide them­selves with the sea food which was at all times so near at hand, inasmuch as all of these fishes are easily caught.

Fascination appears to be the only word to describe the attraction which this branch of science appears to hold upon this ruler of a miniature mon­archy. Fifteen years is not a short period during which any deep study may hold the attention of a man, but when that man's millions come easily and every other sort of human enjoyment is open to him for the asking, it is strange that counter-attractions do not dull the ambition to become a leader in any branch of scientific investigation. Stranger still is the contradictory sort of truth that the tribute of the gaming tables of Monte Carlo goes toward the further enlightenment of men.

Prince of Monaco's Yacht - The Princess Alice

From The Metropolitan Magazine, 1899.