The Return to Challenger Deep     (4)

The deepest point on the planet, called Challenger Deep, is located in the Mariana Trench, about 310 miles southwest of Guam. It is 36,070 feet (10,994m) deep and the bottom was first reached by Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard in the bathyscaphe Trieste on January 23, 1960. The story of their descent and the entire Project Nekton are both fascinating. But what’s perhaps even more fascinating (or puzzling) is that no one has returned to Challenger Deep since. For over 50 years, that record stood and, with the passing of Jacques Piccard in 2008, Captain Don Walsh is now the only man on the planet who can claim to have been there. Until perhaps this week.

Things are now brewing in Guam. James Cameron (director of Titanic and Avatar) has recently announced the DeepSea Challenge, a venture backed by a number of organizations, including National Geographic and Rolex. Check out the official website- it’s pretty awesome. So is James Cameron. The man is a tireless and passionate explorer, having made over 76 deep-water submersible dives, including 33 to Titanic. For the past eight years, he has been working with his team of experts (including Captain Walsh) to build the DeepSea Challenger submersible. It looks like a huge green torpedo, vertically suspended in the water. The main website for the endeavor has tons of great content, including a remarkable letter from James Cameron to Captain Walsh after he completed an 8000m test dive.

The team is now making its way to the Mariana Trench, and Captain Walsh is on board. Fingers crossed all goes well!

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Categories: Diving News & World Events

Zahi’s Back!     (2)

Glad to read that Dr. Zahi Hawass has been reappointed Minister of Antiquities today. Like millions of others around the world, I’ve been concerned that looting of antiquities sites was far greater than we’d been led to believe and that without any person to stand up and coordinate the protection of those sites, looting and theft would continue. We still don’t know what was taken from the storage magazines at Giza, Saqqara, Tell el Fara’in, and Qantara East, And blocks were removed from tombs in Giza, Saqqara, Abusir, and Ismailia.

The good news is that many of the stolen items have been recovered and Zahi’s on it. His management style may be controversial, but his passion for antiquities and his presence for order are both palpable—assets in a country like Egypt. I’m glad he’s back at the helm. Mabrouk, Dr. Zahi!

(In other good news, the Peruvian government is expecting to receive their first shipment of Machu Picchu artifacts from Yale University.)

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Categories: Archaeology News & World Events

Hero of the Month: Captain Don Walsh     (20)

On January 23, 1960, US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard descended to the bottom of Challenger Deep—the deepest spot of the Mariana Trench—in the Trieste bathyscaphe. The descent took almost 5 hours, at which point the Trieste touched down in a cloud of silt, roughly 35,800 feet below the surface. After 20 minutes on the bottom, Walsh and Piccard ascended back to the surface (which took 3 hours and 15 minutes). Their accomplishment has not been repeated by another manned vessel since, and their success has influenced a half-century of oceanography and deep-sea exploration.

Last week, 50 years after the Trieste and its crew completed their historic mission, Capt. Don Walsh and the children of Jacques Piccard (who died in November, 2008) came to Washington, DC to take part in a number of ceremonies and celebrations. The first was a dinner hosted by The Explorers Club’s Washington chapter on Tuesday evening at the Cosmos Club. On Wednesday afternoon, a reception was held on Capitol Hill to acknowledge H.R. 1027, a resolution passed on Jan 23, 2010 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the descent. On Wednesday night, in a private ceremony at National Geographic’s Hubbard Hall, Capt. Walsh received the Hubbard Medal, the highest honor from the National Geographic Society for “distinction in exploration, discovery, and research” and the U.S. Department of the Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award.

On Thursday morning, the U.S. Navy welcomed a small group of guests with the Walsh and Piccard families to the Washington Navy Yard, where Capt. Walsh spoke (among others) in front of the Trieste.

After a brief lunch, Capt. Don Walsh, oceanographer and conservationist Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Tim Shank of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, engineer Graham Hawkes of Hawkes Remotes, and officials from NOAA and the NSF hosted a press conference at the National Press Club to discuss the past, present and future of ocean exploration. And finally, on Thursday evening, 500 people gathered in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to again celebrate and honor the achievements of Walsh and Piccard. In front of the supportive crowd, Capt. Walsh was given the Administrator’s Award, NOAA’s highest honor.

I attended most of the above events and had the good fortune of spending a surprising amount of it with Capt. Walsh and his family. Through it all, I was deeply impressed by Capt. Walsh’s tremendous accomplishments over the past 50 years (see this list) and deeply touched by his humility while receiving so many awards and so much recognition. He took time to answer everyone’s questions. He stayed late at every event. He took pictures with anyone who asked (including me). For all of these reasons and many, many more, Capt. Don Walsh, USN (ret) is my Hero of the Month.

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Categories: Diving Hero of the Month News & World Events

Australopithecus sediba     (3)

Exciting announcements showing up in recent days regarding a new branch of the human family tree. Tomorrow, the journal Science will publish this report on Australopithecus sediba. Discovered at the Malapa cave site in South Africa, Australopithecus sediba walked upright on long legs, but still moved through trees with apelike arms, scientists reported. Bones date to 1.95 to 1.78 mya. In addition to the Science paper, this website does a great job explaining the site location and the significance of the find.

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Categories: Archaeology News & World Events

Plastiki Sets Sail!!     (3)

Friend David de Rothschild‘s Plastiki set sail from San Francisco this past weekend, beginning an 11,000 nautical mile journey to Sydney, Australia. My congratulations to David, who has spent the last 4 years working on this project, pioneering so many aspects of this ship’s technology and construction to help reach people with his message about pollution, water quality, and plastics. Visit the official Plastiki site for more info on the boat (made of 12,000 plastic bottles) and their journey. David and crew will be updating their Facebook page and using Twitter to reach people while at sea. Bon Voyage, David!

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Categories: Environment News & World Events

New Around-the-World Sailing Record Set!     (6)

French skipper Franck Cammas and his nine-men crew set a new record this past weekend, sailing around the world in 48 days, 7 hours, 44 minutes and 55 seconds. They beat the previous record by 2 days, 8 hours, and 35 minutes, sailing 28,523 miles at an average speed of 24.6 knots in the 105 ft trimaran the Groupama 3.

On winning the Jules Verne Trophy, Cammas remarked “I think we could do a lot better but I’ll let someone else beat our record first as I don’t really see the appeal of battling against myself.” Ah, such modesty…

Interesting to note the improvements in race times in this competition over the past 20 years:

1993 - 79 days (Commodore Explorer)
1994 - 74 days (ENZA)
1997 - 71 days (Sport Elec)
2002 - 64 days (Orange)
2004 - 58 days (Cheyenne)
2005 - 50 days (Orange II)
2010 - 48 days (Groupama 3)

Makes one wonder at what point the technology of better navigational equipment and lighter/stronger ship materials will peak and times won’t be so easy to beat. Maybe 42 days? Regardless, it’s a remarkable commitment to dedicate oneself to…  Congratulations to Skipper Cammas and his team!

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Categories: Miscellaneous Travel News & World Events

The Quest for a Camera     (5)

I love vintage cameras. I have a small collection of them at my place in Utah and marvel at the beauty of their construction. Laid out in a row, one can see how they’ve evolved, from the large folding plate-film dinosaurs to the smaller (but still pretty big) cartridge and roll-film models, all the way down the line to today’s featherweight and film-free digitals. One hundred years ago, people would have thought you mad if you talked about a film-free camera. Where would the image be stored? But I digress.

The hunt is now on for a very special old camera: A Kodak Vest Pocket Model B. But not just any Kodak Vest Pocket Model B. People are on the hunt for the Vest Pocket cameras carried by climbers George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine on their attempt to summit Mt. Everest in 1924. Here’s the last photo taken of them before they disappeared on June 8, 1924.

In the upper left inset, you can see what a Vest Pocket camera looks like. You can also read more about this particular model here.  We know Mallory had this camera with him on the climb (as did Irvine), but when his body was discovered on May 2, 1999, the camera wasn’t found. It’s possible that Irvine had both cameras on him (his body has not yet been found) or that the camera is somewhere nearby. Thus continues the quest to resolve one of the greatest mysteries in mountaineering: Is it possible that Mallory and Irvine got to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1924, almost 30 years earlier than the May 29, 1953 ascent by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay?

When last scene by climber Noel Odell in 1924, the pair were above the Second Step, just 850 feet below the summit and still climbing strong. They never returned. 75 years later, Mallory’s body was found by climber Conrad Anker 2,030 feet below the peak. From its condition and placement, Mallory appeared to have fallen before dying, as you can read from this website“The fall has dislocated Mallory’s right elbow and the rope is coiled around his chest, breaking his ribs. At some point he breaks his tibia and fibula just above his right foot. He is still sliding face down the mountain, his fingers digging into the rocky ground. He slides off another ledge and his forehead smashes into the rocks. Finally his battered body comes to a stop. He is still alive! He digs his fingers into the ground and to protect his shattered right leg, he crosses his left foot over the right foot—to protect it.” Pretty fascinating account, to say the least.

On the body were Mallory’s goggles, knife, altimeter and wristwatch.... but no camera. The climbers appeared to be descending when they fell—had they made the summit? This is the million dollar question. If either camera can be found, it’s possible that the film could contain images of Mallory or Irvine on the peak, thus re-writing history. Of course, the camera could be smashed to bits. Or 86 years of cosmic rays could have penetrated the camera’s body and ruined the film. The people at Eastman Kodak have long-pondered what could still be discernible on that film, should it be processed today. But first, of course, the camera must be found, and it’s the latest expedition that is now gearing up and looking for sponsors. If you’re interested, you can read more here. Either way, it certainly makes me appreciate the benefit of recording history with a camera and inspires me to take even more photographs of my journeys.

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Categories: Photography Survival Travel News & World Events

Dolphin Warriors: The Battle at Taiji Continues!     (5)

First of all, I’m ecstatic that The Cove won the Oscar for best documentary. How cool is that? And secondly, I’m excited to hear that Animal Planet has just announced Dolphin Warriors, a TV series that picks up where The Cove ended. Ric O’Barry is back, and he’s still focused on getting the people in Taiji (and the rest of Japan) to stop killing dolphins.  Very excited to see where this goes!

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Categories: Animals Environment Movies, Books, TV News & World Events

A Killer Whale Lives up to its Name     (11)

Sad news coming in right now from SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium in Orlando, Florida. Ever since watching The Cove, I’ve been against the captivity of cetaceans and have avoided going to SeaWorld, dolphinariums and the like (Not that I did that often, but I was in Orlando last month and specifically avoided SeaWorld). I’m curious if this latest event will change the public’s perception of these magnificent animals and how they should (or should not) be held captive.


Granted, there’s a good chance this trainer was completely sympathetic to the animal in question (named Tillikum or “Tilly”) and perhaps was not doing anything threatening or wrong. And it seems Tilly had a history of injuring humans. Curious to see how things progress as the investigation unfolds. Sad, though, for the trainer’s family and no doubt for the people in the audience who witnessed an apparently brutal event. I imagine there are a lot of traumatized kids leaving SeaWorld this afternoon.

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Categories: Animals News & World Events

We Are The World - Still Impressed     (6)

So I just watched the remake of We Are The World that aired during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. That made me nostalgic for the first one that came out in 1985. Gosh, has it really been that long?! So, just for fun, here are both:

First, the original:


I remember when I first saw that (when I was, what, 14?) I didn’t recognize all the artists, but I was touched by how many people came together to help Africa. I think everyone was touched and amazed. It was a moment.

And now the remake:


Given the success and impact of the first video, I wasn’t expecting to be as moved with this one. After all, the media- and PR-machines are more obvious to people today, and I’m not a starry-eyed 14 year old anymore. But, having said that, I think the new video is just as impressive! There are obvious stylistic changes, and you can tell that everyone is hyper-aware of “creating a moment”—as opposed to the first video, which was charmingly unpretentious, people reading from sheet music together. The rap interlude also shows how music and the mainstream’s awareness of musical genres have changed over the last 25 years. Great to see the increase in diversity in the video, too.

Overall, I think the effect is overwhelmingly positive—especially when you see the torch still being held by Quincy Jones, Lionel Richie, a virtual Michael Jackson, and a channeled Ray Charles, thanks to Jamie Foxx. (What, no Bruce?!)

Anyway, if you have 15 minutes to spare, I hope you’ll enjoy the videos and, more importantly, do what you can to support the people in Haiti. Here’s a link to the official site.

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Categories: News & World Events

Here a Tut, there a Tut, everywhere a Tut Tut     (12)

Good lord, it seems the news about King Tut’s DNA is everywhere right now. Kudos to Dr. Zahi’s media department—that man sure knows how to attract an audience. Of course, King Tut has fascinated people ever since Howard Carter discovered KV62 in 1922. Even though Tut’s reign as Pharaoh wasn’t nearly as impressive as that of some other Pharaohs in Egypt, the 18th Dynasty / Amarna Period is particularly interesting, and it doesn’t hurt that KV62 contained inestimable treasures.

As some may know, I’ve done three shows on this period—one on Nefertiti (allegedly Tut’s mother, although not likely the case), one on Akhenaten (Tut’s father) and one on the Boy King himself. All of them intrigue me, as the political and religious upheaval surrounding Tut and his father make for a great story. Throw in there some theories about incest, genetic abnormalities, and murder and, well, what’s not to like? And now we’ve got malaria in the mix, too!! Truly fascinating.

I’m looking forward to Discovery Channel’s 2-part special on King Tut that will begin this Sunday. Should be some good TV, and always fun to watch Dr. Zahi in action.

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Categories: Archaeology News & World Events

The Passing of Captain Phil Harris     (12)

Captain Phil Harris—known to and loved by millions of fans as the captain of the F/V Cornelia Marie on Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch—passed away tonight. The news is circulating the Internet right now. Fans of the show know he suffered a pulmonary embolism two years ago and then a serious stroke on January 30th while offloading his ship at port in St. Paul Island, Alaska. He was flown to Anchorage, where doctors operated on him for 12 hours and placed him in a medically-induced coma to reduce brain swelling. There were rumors floating around last week that things looked grim, then things looked better, and then they got grim again. It seems he wasn’t able to clear this final hurdle and he passed away about two hours ago.

I met Captain Phil in 2007 at a few Discovery events and found him to be earnest, straightforward and big-hearted. His sons, Jake and Josh Harris, released the following statement: “It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to our dad. Dad has always been a fighter and continued to be until the end. For us and the crew, he was someone who never backed down. We will remember and celebrate that strength. Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and prayers.”

My deepest sympathies and condolences to the Harris clan, the Cornelia Marie crew, and all those affected by this loss.

Crossing The Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

To Captain Phil, may your journey “across the bar” and into new waters go smoothly, with the wind at your back, the sun on your face, and all your dreams within reach. You’ll be missed.

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Categories: News & World Events

Shackleton’s Hut, Whiskey and All     (10)

Back in November ‘09, there was a flurry of press regarding the discovery of two crates of Scotch whiskey buried in the ice below Shackleton’s hut in Antarctica over 100 years ago. Earlier today, it was reported that upon excavating those two crates, they found another crate of whiskey and two unexpected crates of brandy. How exciting! (To download the full news release, click here.) 

What I find even more exciting about this event is that the recipe for the whiskey - Mackinlay’s “Rare and Old” - was lost long ago, so there’s a chance that the blenders at Whyte & Mackay can salvage enough whiskey from one of the bottles to recreate it today. If that’s the case, I’ll definitely be buying a bottle!

The hut itself is fascinating to see. Although I haven’t been to Cape Royds to see it in person (yet), I found this video of the conservation work being done by the good folks at the Antarctic Heritage Trust:

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Categories: Miscellaneous News & World Events

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.     (6)


Well worth the 17 mins and 28 seconds to watch and listen. Happy Birthday, Dr. King.

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Categories: News & World Events

Man Sets World Diving Record     (9)

Last week, British diver Will Goodman, 32, spent 48 hours, 9 minutes and 17 seconds on the seabed off the coast of the Indonesian island of Gili Trawangan. Seems this was his third time setting this record and he was prepared for the endeavor, having both the Guinness judge and a film crew there to witness/document it. Here’s the video!


Looking carefully at the video, I saw a waterproof MP3 player, no doubt to help him from getting bored. I also noticed that he switched between a Silent Diving CCR (closed-circuit) unit and a standard Open Circuit—probably to reduce air use & tank changes (for CCR) and to facilitate eating (OC) while down there. Not sure what he did about, um, going #2. (Perhaps he fasted for a few days first.)

My favorite part, though, was when his friends were massaging him. It made me think of Enzo, the character played so well by Jean Reno in The Big Blue. Ah, the crazy things people will do. And isn’t it great that now we can appreciate and celebrate them all over the world within just a few days! Kind of makes me wonder what records I could set and post…

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Categories: Diving Miscellaneous News & World Events

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