Whitney South Sea Expedition

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The Whitney South Sea Expedition (1921 - c.1932) to collect bird specimens for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), under the initial leadership of Rollo Beck,[1] was instigated by Dr Leonard C. Sanford and financed by Harry Payne Whitney, a thoroughbred horse-breeder and philanthropist.

Beck, an expert bird collector himself, hired Ernest H. Quayle[2] and Charles Curtis to assist with collecting, including the botanical specimens collected by the expedition.

The expedition visited islands in the south Pacific region and eventually returned with over 40,000 bird specimens, many plant specimens and an extensive collection of anthropological items and photographs.

Using the 75-ton schooner France,[3] with many different scientists and collectors participating over more than a dozen years, the expedition visited thousands of islands throughout Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia. It was administered by a committee at the AMNH and became a focus for attracting funds for research on the biota of the Pacific islands.

Ernst Mayr joined the expedition when Hannibal Hamlin[4] replaced Beck as leader on one of the later stages of the expedition, to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in 1929-1930. Mayr was hired by the AMNH to curate the Rothschild collection in 1933, and he continued to work up the material that returned to the AMNH from the Whitney expeditions. He continued at AMNH until 1953 as Curator of birds.



  • Chapman, Frank M. (1935). The Whitney South Sea Expedition. Science 81: 95-97.
  • Murphy, R.C. (1922). Science 56: 701-704.

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