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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still Pertinent after all these years..., November 1, 1997
This review is from: Galapagos: World's End (Paperback)
In anticipation of a forthcoming trip to the Galapagos a visit to the local library turned up this 1924 book by Wm Beebe. Somewhat to my astonishment, the book captivated me. Wm Beebe (1877-1962) was not (as I heretofore had thought) merely a one-dimensioned, deep sea explorer. World traveler, naturalist, director of the NY Zoological Society -- he wrote books ranging from birding to jungle exploration. Beebe turns out to have been an early 20th century Loren Eiseley. This book records a 1923 trip undertaken by fourteen scientists from New York to the Galapagos in a steam power yacht, provided by a wealthy patron. They were later to learn that it was more suited to ladies "sipping tea" than oceanic cruising. They discovered to their astonishment that it was "neither an inexhaustible reservoir of fresh water, nor a floating coal mine". They had to cut short their Galapagos collecting and beat an unplanned retreat to Panama for more provisions. Beebe is a very readable author, with many a well turned phrase sprinkled thru the book. He describes the ocean voyage as, "... driving a momentary wedge thru sunshine, wind, and water..." Later, in a small boat, going ashore in the Galapagos, he describes the gentle swell "...which rose and fell as if the Pacific were breathing quietly and regularly." Accordingly, when it came time to jump, he appropriately waited for the ocean to "exhale". He finds both comfort and wonder in contemplating the Darwinian explanation of all he sees. For Beebe, there is an "honour of being one with all about me and in a small way to have at least an understanding..." He marvels, for example, in picking up a crustacean's shell, that having parted ways uncountable millions of years previously, now, quite by accident, they cross again. Beebe deplores both the early sailing depredations of the tortises and the wholesale slaughter of animals by previous scientific expeditions (how many flightless cormorants do you need to get an accurate description?). This expedition restricts themselves to capturing various specimens, which they hauled back to the NYC Zoo. They also took back sacks full of lava rocks, sand, plants, etc with which to make scenic dioramas in the AM Museum of NH. On page 265 one comes across the single most arresting observation in this book. As usual, profundity lies hidden in the details. It seems that Beebe "secured" (his euphimism for collecting) several specimens of different Darwin finches on Daphne, and found to his astonishment that their crops all contained identical food items, despite their differing bill shapes. All, even the heavy beaked birds, for exaple had uncrushed seeds in their crops. He repeated this observations several times, always with the same results. So there is more to the oft repeated, now almost cannonical evolutionary explanation of the differing finch beaks. The various finches are all eating the same things! Natural selection provides what appears to be a reasonable hypothesis to explain the various beaks, but what is really going on? I can think of no less than four explanations, but that is another tale. If anybody reads this and is curious, I am at proode@pol.net.
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