In Memoriam: David William Masch


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of retiree David Willliam Masch on January 7, in Falmouth.  He was 75.

Dave was born in 1937 in Detroit, Michigan, to Henrietta and Ernst Masch. Dave played football and baseball for his high school and was such an accomplished catcher that he was offered a position on the Baltimore Orioles farm team. He was also the valedictorian of his graduating class and wanted to continue his education. He came to Massachusetts in 1955 to attend Harvard College.

After graduating from Harvard, Dave joined the Biology Department at WHOI in 1963, as a research assistant to Frank Carey and John Teal, spending time at sea on the R/V Chain and the R/V Knorr for ten years. During his time with WHOI, Dave became a devoted naturalist and a formidable fisherman. He retired from WHOI in 1974.

While the movie Jaws was being filmed in Martha’s Vineyard, Dave was contacted by Steven Spielberg and asked to consult on shark behavior. Dave caught fish for use in the movie and spent time on the set with the cast and crew.

In 1972, George Cadwalader of Woods Hole reached out to Dave to start the Penikese Island School. Penikese was an independent Department of Youth Services program for troubled young boys. The island formed a unique program that was based on the idea that if the boys were given roles and responsibilities to help keep the place running, they would translate their sense of responsibility to the outside world. Up until its recent temporary closing due to state funding issues, Penikese had a long, successful track record of rehabilitating boys. In lifelong contact with many of the young men he helped, Dave was the mainstay of the island until his retirement 29 years later. A self-proclaimed “professional father figure,” he was called “Pops” by all those who knew him.

Dave was interviewed about the Penikese Island School by Ted Koppel on Nightline. He was also part of the documentary film “Castaways” that was based on George Cadwalader’s book of the same name. Aside from his own large garden, he orchestrated the garden at Penikese Island. On the island and elsewhere during his long life, he raised chickens, goats, pigs, and horses. He was not only a master gardener, but a pig gelder as well. Dave’s home garden is still in operation although his livestock had been reduced to two small dogs.

After retirement, Dave became a popular columnist for On The Water Magazine and the author of two cookbooks, Cooking the Catch, volumes one and two. An accomplished angler and fly fisherman, he was also asked to accompany American Caribbean cruise ships as a naturalist on a number of occasions. An avid birder, Dave’s life list of birds was well into the thousands.

When he wasn’t enjoying or cooking good food to write about in his columns, he was baking bread, carving whimsical spoons, making fish prints, drawing fish illustrations, or making wire fish sculptures. He can still be heard telling stories on the local public radio station, WCAI, giving testament to his popularity as a local raconteur. But as he stated in his monthly “Ask Pops” column, he only guaranteed 80 percent accuracy.

Dave leaves his wife Jeanne Swan-Masch of Cataumet. He also leaves his five daughters, Amanda (Mark Hamill) Jacobs of East Falmouth, Anne (Jake) Densmore of Woods Hole, Frances (Kevin King) Johnson of North Falmouth, Elisabeth (Scott Britton) Swan of North Falmouth, and Jennifer Swan of Lincoln; four grandchildren, Samuel Densmore, Cooper Densmore, Owen King, and Mariah Jacobs; several nieces and nephews, and his two sisters, Shirley and Marilyn. He was predeceased by his son, E. Matthew Masch and his first wife Wanda.

In the words of those around him he was: Beloved by many, feared by fish, and knew it all.

An informal memorial service will be held in late January or early February. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the local public radio station, WCAI, at

Dave’s family supplied much of the information for this obituary.



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