Addison Emery Verrill was an American Zoologist, a student of Louis Agassiz, and Yale University’s first Professor of Zoology. He taught Yale from 1864 until he retired in 1907. Sidney Irving Smith became Yale’s first professor of comparative anatomy, Verrill’s brother-in-law, and collaborator to survey marine life on the coast in the United States Northeast for the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Their report was one of first surveys published as part of the reports by Spencer Baird, the United States Fish Commissioner in 1871 and 1872.
The first of its kind in the Woods Hole region, this survey was an enormous endeavor. During the summer of 1871, from mid-June until late-September, Verrill along with two others—Sidney Smith and Oscar Harger—observed and collected the diversity of life found the Woods Hole region. They used dredges, trawls, and other instruments to pull marine animals up to the surface from the deepest points accessible to them at the time. They also used embroidered canvas nets (probably similar to seine nets, though they don’t use the word in their report) to collect marine animals along the water’s surface. For a short time, they collected aboard a small sail boat, then later aboard the steamship Moccasin captained by J. G. Baker.
In their report, Verrill and Smith attempted to describe and represent all forms of marine life available in the Woods Hole region along the United States eastern seaboard, from the shore to the edge of the west-Atlantic continental shelf (the point at which the ocean floor goes from hundreds of feet deep to over 2 miles deep, at a steep decline). The report was 453 pages long and included descriptions of the forms and features of the organisms collected, and 38 plates with 287 illustrations. Being the only survey of its kind at the time, it influenced scientific work in the region and elsewhere by becoming a persistent point of reference. It was a catalog of: what exists in the area, what it looks like, where to find it, and in what abundance. Scientists who worked at the Marine Biological Laboratory continued to refer to the report as Verrill’s List, and some still refer to it as the earliest example of a survey of marine life around Woods Hole.