From the Vineyard Gazette edition of April 15, 1949:

It is a sad thing to contemplate the passing of the last whaling captain of Martha’s Vineyard. Some whalemen still survive, but with the death of Capt. Ellsworth L. West of Chilmark, the list of whaling masters is closed. The industry has long been gone and can never come again, and as we miss Captain West from the Island scene, we are cut off from that salty, proud and brave past which meant so much.

The late Marcus W. Jernegan, himself the son of a whaling master and one of the few authorities who could speak of whaling both from first hand knowledge and scholarship, liked to tell how he met two captains at an Island affair. “Do you realize,” Captain West said to him, “that I am the last of the sperm whalers?” And a few minutes later, Capt. H.H. Bodfish happened along and remarked, “Do you realize that I am the last surviving shipmaster of bowhead whaling?”

Two eras were speaking. Captain West had gone aboard a whaleship through the hawse-hole at the age of 18, and the whaleslick he followed for the most momentous years of his life was that of the sperm whale. He became a shipmaster at the age of 29, and in 1898 lost the Horatio, on a barrier reef in the Caroline Islands, the first and only vessel to suffer disaster under his command.

Later he was associated with Alaska and the Arctic, and in his active life he had sailed every sea except the Antarctic Ocean, but, as he had remarked to Professor Jernegan, he was the last veteran of the era of sperm whaling. It lived on in him with all its sweep and greatness.


There has been a good deal of discussion lately, some of it of a fairly anxious kind, as to the possible dangers of DDT, at least in its widespread and indiscriminate use, and the final answer to many questions apparently cannot yet be made. It is interesting to note that DDT spraying of dairy barns is no longer advised, and that a substitute preparation is taking its place for this particular purpose.

Quite apart from such considerations is another question — that of destroying too many harmless insects along with mosquitoes, gypsy moths, and so on. Most people speak up for the bees; obviously bees must be preserved and encouraged, or vegetative life will just about be halted in its present generation and state of being. But there are other insects that need to be spoken for.

James A. Hyslop, former head of the insect Pest Survey of the United States Department of Agriculture, records in a recent interview in This Week, that he is definitely pro-insect. “When someone asks me ‘What use is an insect?’” Mr. Hyslop says, “I ask, ‘What use are you?’”

His view is that the crop-destroying and disease-carrying insects number only a few among some 100,000 species in this country; and the best weapons against harmful insects are the good ones.

The best remedy for the cottony-cushion scale, a pest of orange groves, was a ladybug. The praying mantis, harmless to human interests, kills mosquitoes. Many insects have selective appetites for weeds and help to keep them checked.

The balance of nature is a wonderful thing - and one wonders what too much DDT could do to this balance.


Of course we have always been living in an atomic age, and every age has been atomic, even if no one knew it — and the proof is in a statement by Dr. Paul C. Aebersold, chief of the isotopes division of the Atomic Energy Commission, who says that there are, to all intents and purposes, a fixed and limited number of stable atoms of which this world is built. He puts the number, if news reports are correct, at 100 trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion. (Four trillions!)

But so many of these are tied up in “deep layers of soil, rock or interior” that only 100 billion trillion, trillion, trillion, remain “as the world’s water, atmosphere, living matter, and biologically accessible minerals”. Some of these billions and trillions of atoms are in us - and before our day they were in other beings and things, which is the point of these remarks.

Part of a young Vineyarder going to school this morning with shining and innocent face may have been in a whale his great grandfather harpooned off Madagascar when the world was a more difficult but also more romantic place. We live on an Island in the sea - the atoms come to us from all the far reaches of the globe.

So those of us who have always hoped that we were one with nature may rest assured that indeed we are; and nature is one with us. We have interchangeable parts, so to speak, with vanished captains and sea gulls winging overhead. We have all traveled more widely than we know. We are all foreign, just as we are all at home. Is this materialistic? Indeed it is not — it is the contrary. We are moved to look out and up, and only so much of our wonder can be scientific — the rest is of the spirit.

Compiled by Hilary Wall