BEEBE, William

USA (1877-1962)

Last updated: January 18, 2020 at 20:15 pm

Pioneer ecologist; explorer; author; co-invented the Bathysphere with Otis Barton; made record descent to 923 m (3,028 ft) with Barton aboard the Bathysphere in 1934; curator of ornithology at the New York Zoological Gardens from 1899; director of the department of tropical research of the New York Zoological Society from 1919; among his many expeditions, he conducted hundreds of hardhat exploratory dives in Haiti and Puerto Rico in 1927, documenting nearly 300 species, while using innovative devices such as a watertight brass camera housing, and a diving helmet equipped with a telephone; initiated Prince George (Duke of Kent) to helmet diving, who subsequently offered Beebe Nonsuch Island, in Bermuda, for use as a research station; used the Bathysphere with Otis Barton to conduct a series of biological survey dives off Nonsuch Island from 1930 to 1934, thus becoming the first humans to observe deep-sea animals in their natural environment; authored over 800 articles and 21 books; described one new species of bird and 87 species of fish, and 64 animals were named after him; led his last major expedition in 1955.

“Boredom is immoral. All a man has to do is see. All about us nature puts on the most thrilling adventure stories ever created, but we have to use our eyes.”

“To be a naturalist is better than to be a king.”

“The isness of things is well worth studying; but it is their whyness that makes life worth living.”

— William Beebe

William Beebe inspired famed German explorer Hans Hass who wrote the following passage relating to Beebe in 1952. “When William Beebe descended in a diving helmet to the bottom of the sea for the first time—on April 9, 1925, at Darwin Bay in the Galapagos Islands—he picked out a convenient boulder, sat down on it, shut his eyes, and said to himself:”

“I am not at home, not in any city, or among any people. I am far out in the Pacific Ocean on a desert island, sitting on the bottom of the sea. I am deep under water, at a spot where no human being has ever been before. This is one of the most important moments of my entire life. Thousands of people would give a great deal, would make great sacrifices, to have the same experience for only five minutes.” — William Beebe quoted by Hans Hass in Diving to Adventure. Harpoon and Camera under the Sea (1952).

William Beebe (1928). Beneath Tropic Seas. A record of diving among the coral reefs of Haiti. New York. New York Zoological Society. G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
William Beebe (1934). Half Mile Down. New York. New York Zoological Society. Harcourt, Brace and Company.
Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal (1953)

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