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WHOI Waypoints: Going Home Again

Biological samples borrowed nearly 70 years ago from the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen were discovered in a WHOI warehouse and returned to Denmark this summer. The samples were originally procured for research by the first WHOI Director, Henry Bigelow, and his just-graduated student Mary Sears.

Sears traveled to Copenhagen in 1934 to sort and ship gelatinous zooplankton that had been collected by the scientific crew of the Danish vessel Dana during an expedition to the western and southwestern Pacific in the late 1920s. The borrowed samples remained in Sears’ Bigelow Laboratory office until she retired in the 1970s, and then were moved to the biology specimen warehouse. Overcrowding in the warehouse prompted WHOI staff to contact the Copenhagen Museum. Oceanographer Emeritus George Hampson (left) and WHOI volunteer George LeRoy sorted and organized the samples, which ranged in size from vials to Mason-jar equivalents. They packed up several thousand wet and dry samples—filling two four-by-four-foot crates—and sent them back across the Atlantic this spring.

Hamson and LeRoy also found other notable samples in Mary Sears’ collection. One bottle (above left, in Hampson’s hand) from Pacific Grove, California, was hand-labeled in 1929 by Ed Ricketts, the biologist who inspired the character “Doc” in John Steinbeck’s novels Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday.

Originally published: November 1, 2003