Friday Harbor Labs, present-day. Photo by Mariah Wahl.

The Puget Sound Biological Station

We’re exploring the storied history of Friday Harbor Labs, a MarineGEO site, in Washington State.

Friday Harbor Labs, formerly known as the Puget Sound Biological Station, has been a professional home to many Smithsonian scientists, including groundbreaking women such as Mary Rice and Mildred Stratton Wilson. Located on San Juan Island, between Seattle and Vancouver, the labs present a unique location for the study of ocean flora and fauna in the Pacific Northwest.  

Puget Sound Biological Station laboratories, Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington, ca. 1926, photograph by John Nathan Cobb.

Puget Sound Biological Station laboratories, Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington, ca. 1926, photograph by John Nathan Cobb.

Founded in 1903 by University of Washington zoologist Trevor Kincaid, the labs have been a foundational location in the study of marine biology for many researchers, including Smithsonian fellows. The labs were a small, humble project, originally—in 1903, the first “laboratory” of the station was a three-and-a-half by ten foot table under a Douglas fir tree. The next year, Professor Kincaid and Professor T. C. Frye began teaching the lab’s first classes in an abandoned fish cannery building nearby. When the current lab’s location was secured, most buildings were tent structures erected for classrooms and housing. Slowly, the labs have been built into a large campus of different laboratories, classrooms, and housing, for researchers all over the world to learn and discover more about marine life. The Smithsonian cemented a relationship with the labs in 1952, when former Smithsonian Insitution curator of invertebrates Paul Illg began working at the labs in a professional move that would span four decades. Many Smithsonian Institution fellows conduct annual research at the labs to this day. 

Friday Harbor Labs, present-day. Photo by Mariah Wahl.

Friday Harbor Labs, present-day. Photo by Mariah Wahl.

A quick search for “Friday Harbor Labs” in Smithsonian collections reveals dozens of important samples collected over the last century, furthering our understanding of marine ecosystems. Records like this one demonstrate what a vital role the labs continue to play in collections like those found at the National Museum of Natural History.  

Specimen card for "Cyphocaris challengeri Stebbing." Catalog number 105546. It was collected at the  

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