In Memoriam: Richard Wheeler

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We are deeply saddened at the passing of Richard Wheeler of Onset. Dick was a longtime Coalition supporter, a lifelong educator, an environmental advocate, and the namesake for our New Bedford environmental exploration center, the Richard C. Wheeler Bay Learning Center.

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Richard Wheeler at the Buzzards Bay Swim

In addition to paddling, Dick participated for years in the Buzzards Bay Swim. The event’s Wheeler Watershed Challenge Cup, awarded to the fastest team, is named in his honor.

Dick dedicated his life to advancing our understanding of the marine environment, the interconnectedness of all life, and our responsibility to nature. In 1991, driven by a concern for diminishing fish populations in the western Atlantic, Dick undertook a 1,500-mile, 130-day solo kayak journey from Newfoundland to Buzzards Bay that followed the migratory path of the extinct great auk, the “penguins” of Buzzards Bay described by early explorers.

NOVA filmed the endeavor for a documentary, The Haunted Cry of a Long Gone Bird, which aired on PBS and garnered international acclaim. Time magazine named him a Hero for the Planet in 1998.

His distinctive black-and-white sea kayak, with “Aukie” the great auk mounted on the bow, now resides at the Coalition’s headquarters next to the learning center bearing his name.

But Dick didn’t hang up his kayak for good after that trip. In 2011, he circumnavigated Cape Ann on a 20-mile trip and also paddled 12 miles from Wareham to Marion’s Bird Island. And in 2012, at age 81, Dick took to a kayak once again to show how Buzzards Bay’s communities and people are connected by water. He embarked on a 281-mile paddle around the Bay’s entire shoreline, completed in stages beginning in the Westport River and ending on Penikese Island. Along the way, he met up with schoolchildren on Coalition-led outdoor exploration programs.

In addition to paddling, Dick also participated for years in the Buzzards Bay Swim, bringing his years of training as a U.S. Navy frogman to the 1.2-mile open-water crossing of outer New Bedford Harbor. The event’s Wheeler Watershed Challenge Cup, awarded to the fastest team, is named in his honor.

We will miss Dick’s passion, energy, and ability to engage people in the protection of Buzzards Bay and our local environment. But the legacy he left through these remarkable journeys will continue to inspire our work well into the future.

Category: On the Bay

Working to Save Buzzards Bay

The Buzzards Bay Coalition is a membership-supported organization dedicated to improving the health of the Buzzards Bay ecosystem for all through education, conservation, research, and advocacy.

We work to protect clean water on the Bay and on the land: