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Why Study Biology by the Sea?

For almost a century and a half, biologists have gone to the seashore to study life. The oceans contain rich biodiversity, and organisms at the intersection of sea and shore provide a plentiful sampling for research into a variety of questions at the laboratory bench: How does life develop and how does it function? How are organisms that look different related, and what role does the environment play?

From the Stazione Zoologica in Naples to the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, the Amoy Station in China, or the Misaki Station in Japan, students and researchers at seaside research stations have long visited the ocean to investigate life at all stages of development and to convene discussions of biological discoveries. Exploring the history and current reasons for study by the sea, this book examines key people, institutions, research projects, organisms selected for study, and competing theories and interpretations of discoveries, and it considers different ways of understanding research, such as through research repertoires. A celebration of coastal marine research, Why Study Biology by the Sea? reveals why scientists have moved from the beach to the lab bench and back.


"The intriguing title may give you the idea that this is a textbook of marine biology. It is not. It is a historical celebration of what we can learn about biology from studying marine animals and especially of the indispensable role played in that context by marine research stations."

Ocean Challenge

“The essays in this volume would make excellent readings for masters courses in the history, philosophy, and epistemology of biology… The greatest merit of this collection is to frame ‘variety’ as a question, as well as a possible answer, both historically and epistemologically.”


"The essays [in this volume] document a rich history of marine laboratories and their research accomplishments and aim at informing readers that marine laboratories, the marine organisms available there, and the scientific interactions afforded by this research environment led to important biological discoveries."

Quarterly Review of Biology

“In dozens of coastal communities across the world, just down the shore from where vacationers enjoy seaside nature, scientists at marine biological stations are investigating fundamental aspects of life. This first-rate collection brings historians and biologists together to present fresh analyses of the institutions, people, ideas, and practices of this seaside enterprise as it has grown up over the past 150 years. Its chapters collectively demonstrate how the combination of lab and field studies at seaside stations, starting at Naples and Woods Hole and then spreading across the globe, have made major contributions to our understanding of life, especially its cellular and subcellular workings. Ultimately, by showing, over and over again, the importance of obscure sea creatures for building basic biological knowledge, this book offers a powerful argument for sustaining the institutions that allow scientists to study them.”

Lynn K. Nyhart, University of Wisconsin–Madison

“Marine biology and marine science in general are increasingly relevant in an age of global climate change. This book is unique in also dealing with these subjects from a historical and philosophical perspective, which provides new insights and approaches to the various epistemic issues that arise regarding the scientific work itself. The authors are all outstanding and well-recognized scholars, and the volume is not only interesting reading but also an important contribution to preserving the marine environment and the institutions (marine biological stations) devoted to studying it.”

Garland E. Allen, Washington University in St. Louis

"A fascinating collection of essays on the historical emergence of marine biological stations, the diversity of work they pursue, and their significant contributions to scientific discovery and knowledge."

Diana Kenney | Marine Biological Laboratory

Table of Contents

Foreword, Nipam H. Patel

Introduction, Karl S. Matlin, Jane Maienschein, and Rachel A. Ankeny
Part One              Marine Places

1              Why Have Biologists Studied at the Seashore? The Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory
Jane Maienschein

2              Marine Biology Studies at Naples: The Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn
Christiane Groeben

3              The First Marine Biological Station in Modern China: Amoy University and Amphioxus
Christine Yi Lai Luk

4              The Misaki Marine Biological Station’s Dual Roles for Zoology and Fisheries, 1880s–1930s
Kjell David Ericson
Part Two              Marine Practice

5              Illuminating Animal Behavior: The Impact of Laboratory Structure on Tropism Research at Marine Stations
Samantha Muka

6              The Scientific Fishery: Sampling, Dissecting, and Drawing in the Gulf of Naples
Katharina Steiner

7              A Dual Mission: Research and Education as Critical Factors for the Scientific Integrity of the Marine Biological Laboratory
Kate MacCord

8              Francis O. Schmitt: At the Intersection of Neuroscience and Squid
Kathryn Maxson Jones

9              Microscopes and Moving Molecules: The Discovery of Kinesin at the Marine Biological Laboratory
Karl S. Matlin

10           Using Repertoires to Explore Changing Practices in Recent Coral Research
Rachel A. Ankeny and Sabina Leonelli

11           Why Study Sex by the Sea? Marine Organisms and the Problems of Fertilization and Cell Cleavage
Michael R. Dietrich, Nathan Crowe, and Rachel A. Ankeny

12           Hagfish and Vascular Biology: Why the Marine Model Matters
Marianne A. Grant and William C. Aird

Epilogue: The Future of Biological Research Will Be Found in the Oceans, Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado
List of Contributors

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