Today marks the Anniversay of William Beebe Trip to the Galapagos

July 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today is the anniversary of William Beebe’s trip to the Galapagos Islands. He detailed his adventure in the book “Galapagos: World’s End” which was on the New York Times best seller list for several months. The book was said to have influenced several of the early settlers to come to Galapagos including those who originally settled on Floreana.  Beebe was also the first to recognize the incredible diversity of Marine Life in the waters surrounding the islands.

William Beebe was born July 29, 1877, in Brooklyn. His family and friends called him “Will.” His father Charles was a paper dealer and was often away on business. The family moved a few times and eventually settled at 73 Ashland Avenue in East Orange, NJ.

The whole family was interested in nature and thus Beebe grew up as a naturalist. They often visited the American Museum of Natural History and the assorted natural history lectures given there. It was to that museum that Beebe went later to get his specimens identified.

He attended East Orange High School and his higher education was achieved at Columbia University. He was appointed curator of ornithology of the New York Zoological Society in 1899. He originated the collection of living birds in the New York Zoological Park in the Bronx, making it one of the finest such collections in the world.

In 1916 Beebe became director of tropical research for the zoological society and headed scientific expeditions to Nova Scotia, Mexico, Venezuela, British Guiana (now Guyana), Borneo, China, Japan, the Himalaya Mountains and other regions.

Particularly notable were his explorations in parts of Asia in search of data later published in his Monograph of the Pheasants (1918) and Pheasants — Their Lives and Homes (1926).

In 1923 Beebe headed an expedition to the Galapagos Islands in the ship Noma to study marine and land life, making oceanographic studies in the Sargasso Sea along the way. He made a record descent of 3,028 feet into the ocean off one of the Bermuda islands in 1934 by means of a spherical diving chamber of his own design, the bathysphere.

The bathysphere is suspended from a surface ship by a steel cable, and the observers manning it are connected to the mother ship by telephone. The round “eyes” of the bathysphere are three inches thick, built to withstand water pressures of half-a-ton per square inch, usually found at half-mile depths. His experiences are recorded in his book Galapagos.

Beebe wrote about 300 articles and books. Among the books are Jungle Days (1925), The Arcturus Adventure (1925), Beneath Tropic Seas (1928), Half Mile Down (1943), Book of Naturalists (1944) and Unseen Life in New York (1953).

William Beebe died on June 4, 1962.

This article was written by Vernon Parker (1923-2004)


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