Good morning. It’s Thursday. Today we’ll get a look at the new home of some very old fish. We’ll also find out why six House Republicans from New York say the time has come to expel Representative George Santos from Congress.
Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
Today is moving day for a couple of big fish.
They’re the largest of the 3.2 million specimens in the American Museum of Natural History’s ichthyology collection, ichthyology being the branch of zoology that deals with fish.
They’re all dead, and, except for those two, all 3.2 million have been moved into a recently completed $465 million addition to the museum after five years in temporary quarters.
The two specimens’ new home is behind a glass-walled space called the Collections Core, which displays more than 3,000 specimens and artifacts, from the tiny teeth of a megalodon (a giant relative of the great white shark) to the sizable footprint of a duck-billed dinosaur. Through the glass, and the spaces between the suspended panels of the Collections Core, museum-goers can glimpse scientists at work — among them Radford Arrindell and Scott Schaefer, who earlier this week flipped the latches on a wide stainless steel box. Then they lifted the lid.
“The fish-world version of a dinosaur,” said Schaefer, whose titles at the museum include curator-in-charge of the Department of Ichthyology. “Our closest fish ancestor.”
He explained that the two fish inside were coelacanths (pronounced SEE-luh-canths), which were thought to have lived 350 million years ago.
They were also thought to have been extinct until 1938, when a fisherman in South Africa noticed something blue and unusual in his net. After tying up at the dock at the end of the day, he sent for the curator of the East London Museum, who sketched the fish and sent the drawing to J.L.B. Smith, a renowned ichthyologist.
“He knew right away it was the find of the century,” Schaefer said, “because you’re talking about something that was only known from fossils.” It turned out that coelacanths had survived more or less unchanged.
I had met Schaefer five years ago, just before the collection was moved into the temporary space. Every specimen in the collection has a number, and I remember asking what No. 1 was. It had already been packed away by the time I arrived, but this week, Arrindell knew exactly where it was — on a shelf not far from the tank with the coelacanths. Anyone looking through the glass on the other side of the Collections Core could have seen him lift the glass jar off the shelf.
He said the museum had had it for roughly 150 years. It came from a collection owned by Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, a Prussian naturalist who traveled to the western United States in the 1830s. He ran into some trouble in Kansas when soldiers confiscated his brandy. He had not taken it along for after-hours drinking, but for preserving the specimens he would send back to Europe, which ultimately included 2,000 fish.
Diluted ethanol has long since replaced liquor as the solution used at the museum. And as far as the coelacanths are concerned, the ethanol in their tank will be theirs forever. One of the first steps in the move today will be to drain it and set it aside.
“This ethanol is already what we call conditioned” after years in the tank with the fish, where it has drawn out oil from the two fish, Schaefer said. “If you were to put these in an empty new tank and added fresh ethanol, it would draw more oil out. You don’t want it to happen. This is at equilibrium. You want to make sure it stays that way.”
So the coelacanths’ ethanol will be poured back in by the end of the day.
Dr. Schaefer said that fire-safety concerns about ethanol had dictated some design elements of the new space, including garage-style doors that can roll down in an emergency, walling off the space with specimens from the space with museum-goers on the other side of the Collections Core. A fire suppression system would also be triggered if a blaze broke out.
But Dr. Schaefer said the diluted solution used by the museum is only 70 percent ethanol and that it is difficult to ignite. He said he had tried, earlier in his career, in a parking lot when he worked at another institution.
“Had to do an experiment,” he said. “I failed every time. You could not ignite it.”
Expect mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the high 60s. At night, expect cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 50s.
In effect until Nov. 1 (All Saints’ Day).
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Onetime allies push to expel Santos from the House
Six Republican House members who were elected at the same time as Representative George Santos now say he should be expelled from Congress.
Their push comes amid new federal charges that Santos defrauded campaign contributors and lied to the Federal Election Commission. Prosecutors say that Santos used donors’ credit card information without their permission, charging $44,800 to one donor, with $11,000 of that money ending up in Santos’s personal bank account.
“We feel that enough’s enough,” said Representative Anthony D’Esposito. “He’s a stain on the institution.” D’Esposito said in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that he would introduce a resolution to expel Santos. “Santos’s many deceptions coupled with the ever-expanding legal cases against him further strengthen my long-held belief that he is unfit to serve in Congress,” D’Esposito, who represents a district that adjoins Santos’s, wrote on X.
But my colleague Nicholas Fandos writes that expulsion faces a high bar in the house — a two-thirds majority, so high that only five House members have been thrown out in all of American history.
That could make the move by the six Republicans little more than an effort to defend potential swing seats in 2024. Democrats are already pouring money into New York, hoping to gain an advantage by tying other Republicans to Santos.
House Republicans headed off an attempt by Democrats to expel Santos soon after he was indicted in May. D’Esposito said that he and his allies believed that Santos’s situation had deteriorated in the last week, first with a guilty plea by his campaign treasurer and then with 10 felony counts that prosecutors added to the charges against Santos. The treasurer, Nancy Marks, admitted that she had conspired with Santos to report false donations and a fictitious $500,000 loan.
Representative Nick LaLota, another Long Island Republican who has been pushing for Santos’s expulsion, said the New York lawmakers had no commitments from party leaders about scheduling an expulsion vote. Their resolution seemed timed to coincide with the deliberations on a new speaker to replace Representative Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted last week. Santos had backed him in January.
On Wednesday, Santos dismissed the threat of expulsion, saying the move was politically driven. “It’s disheartening to witness my colleagues prioritize their campaigns over the essential work that needs to be done,” Santos said in a statement. He added, “An expulsion of myself as a member of Congress before being found guilty from a criminal investigation will set a dangerous precedent.”
View from above
In 1998, I went to see Kathleen Chalfant in “Wit.” I sat in the front row of the mezzanine. Because I’m on the short side, the railing at the front of the section blocked my view of the stage.
I asked the usher if he had any cushions I could sit on.
He said he did not. Then he said he had an idea and would be right back.
He soon returned with six stacks of Playbills, three to put under me and three to put behind.
I had a great view.
— Judy Epstein
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Hannah Fidelman and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].