July 20, 2021

Bethy "Dive Nanny" Miller on how she saw diving transform one boy's life, and Freediver Nathan Lucas on practice, practice, and more practice

Bethy "Dive Nanny" Miller on how she saw diving transform one boy's life, and Freediver Nathan Lucas on practice, practice, and more practice

Welcome to season 3 of the DeeperBlue Podcast!  In episode 2: 

  • The latest scuba diving, freediving, ocean, and diving travel news that has happened in the last week from around the world underwater with Host Stephan Whelan and producer Jason Elias.
  • Then co-host Linden Wolbert speaks with the bubbly Beth Miller, known to many just as Bethy Scuba or the Dive Nanny.
  • We then hear a top tip from Freediver Nathan Lucas on how practice, practice, practice ... makes for a better dive 
  • And then finally we hear yet another incredible listener-submitted Best Dive Ever from artist David Gellar and diving in a shark and dolphin mecca on honeymoon.

If you’d like to be notified when new shows air, please subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast app or head to deeperblue.com/podcast to signup for the newsletter.

Season 3 of the DeeperBlue Podcast is brought to you by Suunto.  Finnish engineering pioneering adventure from mountain top to ocean floor since 1936.

Don't forget to give us ★★★★★, leave a review, and tell your friends about us - every share and like really makes a difference!

Transcript

Jason Elias:
Season three of the DeeperBlue Podcast is brought to you by Suunto. Finnish engineering, piloting adventure from mountain top to ocean floor, since 1936. Suunto.

Linden Wolbert:
Welcome to the DeeperBlue Podcast, your weekly guide to everything that is happening around the world, underwater. My name is Linden Wolbert, and I'm a professional mermaid and cohost of the DeeperBlue Podcast, the podcast for deeperblue.com, the world's most popular diving website.

Linden Wolbert:
Every week, the DeeperBlue Podcast covers everything that is happening in the scuba, freediving, dive travel, and ocean advocacy world. So join us as we explore the DeeperBlue.

Jason Elias:
And action.

Stephan Whelan:
Oh, welcome back to episode two.

Jason Elias:
Welcome back to episode two, season three of the DeeperBlue Podcast. I'm here with Stephan Whelan, the grand creator, mastermind, Grand Poobah of all deeperblue.com.

Stephan Whelan:
And he's Jason Elias.

Jason Elias:
Super good looking bon vivant.

Stephan Whelan:
Bon vivant. Bit of flotsam. Producer to podcasts.

Jason Elias:
Let's get ready. We've got a lot of news today.

Stephan Whelan:
We've got a lot to do today.

Jason Elias:
In the future, you'll probably be able to tell which stories I bring to the table, and which ones Stephen brings to the table. And just guess who brought this one? First story is about a lobster diver who got trapped inside of a whale. He was trapped in the mouth of a whale, and the thing that he's most pissed off is that no one believes his story.

Jason Elias:
So a guy named Michael Packard, 57-years-old, lived in Cape Cod, was scuba diving off Cape Cod coast. And I don't know where, he says he got hit by a freight train. Everything went dark. He was convinced he was dead, and he woke up and he realized he's in the mouth of a humpback whale. Tossed around for a while in the darkness, the father of teenage boys said he could feel the beast's mouth holding him tight, with jaws clamped down on his legs. And he thought he was going to die. He did a little bit of thrashing around and the thing spit them out.

Jason Elias:
If you were a drunk at a bar and someone tells you this story, "Yeah, bull." But the problem is, is that he is very upset, because no one believes that this humpback whale sucked him up in his mouth.

Stephan Whelan:
Well, I'm probably a little skeptical of this one. I mean, it's an interesting story. It's just it's laced with... This is in the newspaper, that's any British people listening to the show, The Daily Mail, which is right up there with the National Inquirer in the US. I mean, if this story is true, and he has been on 60 Minutes, so who knows, it might be true. It's a pretty extraordinary story.

Jason Elias:
Particularly because he had scuba tanks on. He calmed down. He says, "Okay, I've got about 50 minutes to live inside this whale's mouth." To me, this is just a story straight out of mythology. 200 years from now, his family will be talking about, "Did you ever hear about old humpback Michael?"

Stephan Whelan:
Old Ahab and Moby Dick.

Jason Elias:
And I do feel sorry for the guy, that no one believes his story. Because even here, we're giving him a rough time.

Stephan Whelan:
It is totally feasible. You do see these pictures of people taking photos of snorkeling near whales breaching, as they're coming up to... Because humpbacks eat crustaceans, so they eat shrimp and krill, and all those sorts of things. They scoop up large amounts of this stuff, so it's totally possible that he could have been sucked up.

Jason Elias:
Well, I decided to lead the entire thing with this, because I just love this story. In a time of all COVID news, my heart goes out to Mr. Packard. Okay, so that's the story number one. What's next?

Stephan Whelan:
So we've got a few creature, critter stories. So the first one is there is a transparent octopus that's been captured on underwater footage. So this thing looks like something out of some science fiction movie, but it's amazing. This octopus has developed this adaptation to be able to basically hide in plain sight. It's totally amazing.

Jason Elias:
Well, I think what's fascinating about it, so when you see the video of the octopus, it's absolutely incredible. Okay, so we've all gotten used to seeing jellyfish being transparent. And when you see a transplant jellyfish, you say to yourself, "How is there an internal system there, that allows this thing to live?"

Jason Elias:
But when we talk about an octopus, something that actually has comparable intelligence to almost any other animal we can find in the world, there's some sentience there. And then you look through it, and there's maybe three things that you can actually see in his transparent body. It really challenges your assumptions about what it means to be alive and what life can encompass. It's really stunningly beautiful. And as far as I can tell in this video, the only thing I can really see is his two eyes. You can see some of his suckers, and then it looks like a mini corn on the cob. Something inside his head.

Stephan Whelan:
It does look like a mini corn on the cob. It's pretty impressive. You can go on Instagram and have a look at Schmidt Ocean Research Institute. And they actually followed this thing around for 22 minutes. Nearly transparent. The only visible features are digestive tract, optic nerve and eyeballs. To be honest, that's like me on a night out. You can only see my digestive tract, optic nerve and eyeballs on a night out.

Jason Elias:
Well, I was going to say that what this does show is the beauty and magic that the ocean allows us to experience in a very direct way. Or it shows why getting in the water is so important to all of us, because we are continually allowed to see things that challenge our assumptions of what life can bring to us. So this was absolutely fantastic.

Jason Elias:
And that brings us onto our next story. We've got a couple of environmental stories, and I found this one truly interesting. Scientists have discovered there is a shark and turtle super highway between the Cocos Island and the Galapagos. So to orient ourselves, Cocos Island is somewhere off the coast of Costa Rica and Panama, and Galapagos is off the coast of Ecuador. And they're both renowned for having wildlife, so it's no surprise to find that there is a transit between these two places, a wildlife transit.

Jason Elias:
And what's interesting is we found this on cnn.com. There's actually an animatic showing a lot of the different pathways that these different animals take between the two, which is really interesting. But of course, in the modern world, there's environmental factors that are starting to play in. And they're worried about this super highway that brings wildlife back and forth being disrupted.

Stephan Whelan:
As you say, Cocos and the Galapagos Islands, both renowned for having huge marine diversity, a lot of liveaboards and diving goes on in those destinations. It's almost not surprising that this has been discovered. It was also found to be 700 kilometers, which is 430 miles long, which is amazing.

Jason Elias:
Again, I think what this does point back to, if you're listening to this show, you're dedicated to the ocean in some way as well, it shows how much we have to learn and how much magic lies in the ocean. And the fact that we're even discovering this just now, says it's a place worth fighting for. It's a place worth keeping connection to, even when you're not in the water, which is why we do this podcast.

Jason Elias:
Which brings us to maybe a slightly less positive story. Smithsonian this week, came out with a story talking about how the heat dome that has been over the Pacific Northwest in Canada, that we've all heard about, that has led to record temperatures in Oregon, for example. Three days over 115, which is unheard of in that area.

Stephan Whelan:
It's the high 40s Celsius.

Jason Elias:
Oh, you're using those weird numbers again.

Stephan Whelan:
Yeah.

Jason Elias:
For the normal people out there, we're talking about 114 degrees Fahrenheit. So basically what it is that we're talking about, record highs in these places. And it's not only impacting the people that there's been a lot of deaths in the Pacific Northwest of human beings, but they're also talking about deaths of sea animals. And their estimated death toll could be more than a billion, from boiling muscles to death on shore, out to turtles and animals within the shallow coastline.

Jason Elias:
So again, we're starting to see really the cumulative effects of climate change, and how it's really starting to impact us in a much more direct way, particularly for those of us that are interested in the ocean.

Stephan Whelan:
This isn't the first time that this large-scale die-off news has come about. The sea star population along the whole of the West Coast of the US, plummeted. And really sad story.

Jason Elias:
So what's next?

Stephan Whelan:
Why don't we talk a bit about travel? Phuket in Thailand has reopened. Obviously, Phuket's a big diving destination in Thailand. And the dive companies there are obviously excited, but they're also looking at more sustainable ways of interacting with the marine life and the wildlife, being more sustainable. The lack of divers and tourists and so on, the marine life has really bounded back. And this is true of so many parts of the world. And now saying, "Well, how can we maintain it at this level?"

Jason Elias:
Which is great to see. There's all kinds of cascading repercussions from what we've all just gone through. Some positive, some negative. And this is a positive one to see. But it also is talking about the fact that diving is starting to open up and travel is starting to open up. So you can get to Phuket in Thailand. Thailand has opened up.

Jason Elias:
We've also, as of June 20th, you no longer need a COVID test to get into Mexico. Although we should caution you, that doesn't mean you can come back to where you're from without a negative COVID test. So that's something to be very cognizant of. So there's some reports of coming back from Cancun and Cozumel and Quintana Roo. Even if you get there to go diving, a lot of things are still shutting down there. So that's something to be cognizant of as well.

Jason Elias:
One of the other stories that's interesting is about the Maldives. You do have to have negative COVID tests to get in and out, and they're pretty hardcore about it. So even if you get a false positive, they put you under quarantine and it's extremely expensive. So there's some stories about people being trapped in paradise, and actually having to pay a lot of money to do that. So just be aware of where you're going to go diving. And it's a patchwork around the world right now, so just do your research before you go.

Stephan Whelan:
And a little bit on this is because it's COVID-related, a lot of insurance and a lot of cancellation policies and so on don't let you get any refunds, which happened in this case. Your insurance doesn't cover you, so it's something that is a risk you have to take, I'm afraid.

Jason Elias:
Right. And the reason we bring up these travel news stories is the world is opening up, so it's just do your research. But places are opening up, so that's great news.

Jason Elias:
Okay. What's next?

Stephan Whelan:
So next, a bit of freediving news going on. So this is the snooze fest part of the show, where we've taken some actual news from the diving world, rather than those tabloids that Jason reads.

Stephan Whelan:
Anyway, so freediving news. So for the freedivers among you, the Vertical Blue 2020 Competition has kicked off in The Bahamas. It's called the Wimbledon of freediving. It's an invitational competition. It's held at Dean's Blue Hole in The Bahamas, which is a beautiful sink hole there. It's run by William Trubridge, 18-time world record-holding freediver. He was on the series one of the show. He was one of the first guests we had on.

Jason Elias:
Our first interviews here.

Stephan Whelan:
There's 42 athletes that are at this competition. And on the first day, four world records were set and eight national records were set. And this is why it's called the Wimbledon of freediving. It's basically one of the top competitions you could go to as an athlete, and you have to be invited to go.

Stephan Whelan:
So the four records that were done, so Alexey Molchanov, Russian powerhouse, superstar of the freediving worlds. He did 126 meter, 413 foot dive in free immersion, which is pulling yourself up and down on the rope. Arnaud Jerald did a swim down, swim up constant weight with bi-fins, so two fins. He did a depth of 116 meters. I mean, this stuff is bonkers deep. And this is under their own power.

Stephan Whelan:
And then there was this amazing competition between Alessia Zecchini, an Italian world champion freediver, one of the best women free divers in the world. She did constant weight, which is with a mono-fin, fitting up and down, big whales tail type thing. She did 115 meter dive. And then literally, three minutes later, Slovenian Alenka Artnik surpassed it with 118 meter dive on exactly the same discipline. So she held that world record for three minutes or four minutes.

Stephan Whelan:
But again, the amazing thing is when you watch the camaraderie that goes on when these athletes are doing their dives, all the other competitors who are competing immediately after them, are all on the dive platform, around a dive platform, cheering their arch nemesis in the water. They're cheering them on.

Jason Elias:
It says something about freediving and what that community is all about. That's fantastic. It also says something about the fact that it feels like there's just this, we're heading back into a roaring '20s, just like they did 100 ago after the Spanish Flu and World War I, where there's so much pent up desire to get out and live life again. So it's just wonderful to see it coming out in wonderful ways like that.

Stephan Whelan:
Coverage of Vertical Blue is going on DeeperBlue. So if you would like to keep watching, go to deeperblue.com, and you can absolutely check it out.

Jason Elias:
That takes us onto it. There's another conference coming up that you mentioned, that sounds fascinating as well.

Stephan Whelan:
There's a conference about what's called Human Factors. So this is the study of basically how we're all idiots. I work in the computer world, so we talk about the error is between keyboard and chair. It's the human that's the problem. So Human Factors is taken from things like air crash investigations, space travel, and so on. Really environments where even the slightest mistake or the slightest thing that goes wrong could be catastrophic.

Stephan Whelan:
And they apply this to diving. Because again, we're immersing ourselves in an unbreathable liquid. In scuba diving terms, we've got life support systems that are mechanical, that keep us alive. So it's really the study of extreme environments. How do you make sure that we perform in the right way? Take an airline example. The pilot and the copilot never eat the same meal. There's always separate different meals, because that happened once.

Jason Elias:
I didn't know that. Wow.

Stephan Whelan:
Because an air crash that happened, because they both got food poisoning and no one could fly the plane. So this sort of stuff is studied.

Jason Elias:
Fascinating.

Stephan Whelan:
And Gareth Lock is one of the foremost experts in the world around Human Factors for diving. And he's hosting a conference which features 29 presenters from all over the world. It's online and it's on September the 24th and 25th. If you're interested, go to deeperblue.com and you can look at the news article register.

Jason Elias:
Well, that sounds super fascinating. And that takes us on to our last story about the way the human beings work.

Stephan Whelan:
This is your one, Jason, all the way through. I don't think I can bring myself to talk about this one.

Jason Elias:
This is amazing. I don't know how, if you guys are all fans of a website called McMansion Hell. It's very American, and it just talks about people that have a lot of money and build places that are Goddy and overwrought, and kind of a McMansion. So there is a $30 million property, a European-inspired, castle-like mansion in Kansas that is now being sold for $5.75 million. So it costs $30 million to make, and they're selling it for 5.75.

Jason Elias:
The reason we bring this up is because in addition to the waterfall it has, it's a 25 foot waterfall, and this 17,755 square foot home, it also has something like a quarter mile of underground scuba diving tubes. This guy built a grotto in the basement, and it has these man-made caves filled with water that you can scuba dive through under his house. That alone cost $10 million for this grotto, 35 foot waterfall, and the tunnels. And then it empties out into a coy, catfish, and bass pond that you can fish in. God love the guy. I don't know who he is. I mean, he has a passion for scuba diving, I guess. Is he listening to the show? I'd love to have him on.

Stephan Whelan:
Absolutely.

Jason Elias:
I'd love to talk to him. Just the idea that someone built this, I just love it. I love the foibles and follies of human beings, so that's why I wanted to bring this up.

Stephan Whelan:
This definitely falls into the more money than sense bracket of the show. The bit also that I love about this is when you read the article, and this was actually a comment I read, this article says, "The home has several commercial kitchens." And this commentator goes on, which is exactly what I thought when I read it, which is, "Well, how many is several? If it's four or more, I'd be interested. I just don't understand how anyone can get by with three commercial kitchens in their home."

Jason Elias:
Well, I think the only way I'm going to try and get my wife to put a bid on this place, because the primary bedroom features a Sistine Chapel-like, hand-painted mural of The Hand of God. And I figure, what way to go to sleep in comfort than to have the hand of God over us?

Jason Elias:
Again, the follies and foibles of human beings, I just love them. God loves human beings. And so if you get a chance, you should take a look at this place. It's pretty incredible. It is going on the auction block with no reserve. So if you put a dollar bid on this and no one else bids that, you can get it.

Stephan Whelan:
But you need to register $100,00 to be able to register to bid to vote. So it's just not something you're going to be able to do.

Jason Elias:
That's podcast money right there.

Stephan Whelan:
It's podcast money. Yeah, sure. Anyway, I think that's enough of the news for this week.

Jason Elias:
On with the show.

Inka Cresswell:
The wild underwater, every week. I'm Inka Cresswell. I'm a wildlife filmmaker and marine biologist, and you're listening to the best 30 minutes about diving, the DeeperBlue Podcast.

Linden Wolbert:
I'm speaking today with the infinitely energetic and bubbly Bethy Miller. Known to many in the dive industry simply as Bethy Scuba or the Dive Nanny, Bethy took her first breath underwater over a decade ago, and instantly knew diving was her life's calling. Bethy dives through the waters around Southern California, testing scuba equipment for manufacturers, honing in on her scuba skills, and eventually earning her PADI Instructor Rating.

Linden Wolbert:
Her background and passion in working with kids in special education gave Bethy an idea. She wanted to empower children through diving as a means to learn about themselves on the inside, and the environment, the planet, and our oceans on the outside. Hence, Dive Nanny Adventures was born. Bethy, tell me about Dive Nanny Adventures, how it was born, and why it means so much to the individual children and families that you work with.

Bethy Miller:
Before I got into diving, I was working towards my teaching degree to become a special education teacher. And within that window, I had discovered scuba diving. And while I was training, there were so many similarities that I found with the occupational therapy program for the kids, and with diving. And I saw so many connections that not only did it help myself, I saw, hey, I want to be able to pay this forward and show kids how they could use diving to help themselves, or even do something amazingly adventurous.

Linden Wolbert:
That is so cool. And did this just organically begin in your mind, or did it actually happen because you saw a kid who needed a Dive Nanny?

Bethy Miller:
So I was sitting at the dinner table with my Aunt Margie, and we were just talking about what I wanted to do as a Divemaster. And I was in that beginning phase of how I wanted to be a dive professional. And then we started talking about what I'd do with kids, because I was already doing respite care and babysitting, and I absolutely loved it. And then when it dawned on me, Dive Nanny, I go, "You know what? That sounds like a really unique idea."

Bethy Miller:
And it wasn't until about a year later that I had parents hire me to take them out diving. And so I'd meet them at the dive site, and they were there with their young son and I was like, "Oh, that's awesome." And so I started chit chatting to him about scuba. And they had me take one parent out, one at a time. And that's when it clicked that I should probably have another one of my respite care providers come to the beach and watch the child, and I'll take both the parents out together. And then it really dawned on me that this should be something in its own, and I should offer to do this for people.

Linden Wolbert:
That's amazing. Bethy, your energy is so contagious. And what I would love is for you to take me on a dive with you. Was there a particular moment in the water that truly connected the dots for you to pursue diving with kids?

Bethy Miller:
I'm really, really lucky that I had an awesome opportunity to be able to start working with kids early on in my scuba diving career. And there was one day when I was in the back office, and one of the instructors at the shop that I was working at, he came in back and he said, "Hey, you know what? There's this one kid up front, and I want you to meet him."

Bethy Miller:
This ten-year-old kid came in, and the parents said that the only thing that he wanted to do was become a diver. And he had some struggles with autism and things along those lines. One day we decided, I wonder if he could set the record for the youngest junior master scuba diver in the world. And his parents said, "Yeah, let's do it." Every Wednesday and every Sunday, we would get together and we would do a dive. And over two years, we worked our way towards his master's scuba diver. Which meant on his 12th birthday, we decided to go to Fiji as a family. I'm included in the family now.

Bethy Miller:
He completed his Advanced Open Water by finishing his deep open water dive on his 12th birthday. On the day after his birthday, he had completed all the required skills for his Rescue Diver certification. I had the amazing opportunity to watch his mother play the victim and her son coming up to her, recognizing the situation. And he completely owned that rescue scenario.

Bethy Miller:
When he brought her up to the surface and was providing rescue breaths, it was just a magical moment where you saw a son at rescuing his mom. It wasn't just me taking people diving. It was really rewarding to see him make an amazing accomplishment, but then also see the growth that they made as a family that day. I can't put into words how magical it was.

Hugh Pearson:
You're listening to the world's only weekly podcast for scuba diving, freediving, dive travel, and ocean advocacy. I'm Hugh Pearson, a wildlife filmmaker who specializes in working at sea. And this is the DeeperBlue Podcast.

Linden Wolbert:
All right. I'm here with Nathan Lucas, underwater photographer, firefighter, and freediving instructor. And do you have a top tip for us today?

Nathan Lucas:
Absolutely. It doesn't matter whether you are a freediver, whether you're a spearfisher, or you're a photographer, if you want to be better at any one of those things, and you're doing this via freediving, my recommendation is to become a better freediver. Train on a line, actually get your form and technique to where it's perfect. Perfect practice does make perfect.

Nathan Lucas:
And then it's only going to make your spearfishing more plentiful. Your photos, you're going to be much more adapted to being able to remain calm, and how to use those techniques to summons animals, to get them a little bit closer to you. And ultimately, focus on the basics. Get perfect form and technique, and then the rest will follow suit.

Kinga Philipps:
The world underwater, every week. Hi, I'm Kinga Philipps, journalist and ocean advocate. And you are listening to the best 30 minutes about diving, the DeeperBlue Podcast.

Stephan Whelan:
Hi, everyone. The DeeperBlue Podcast is brought to you by Suunto, the makers of those fabulous, fabulous dive computers. Suunto. I have to say, Jason, I've been watching some of the adverts for Suunto, and I just cannot nail the Finnish accent, because they're a Finnish company. It sounds really cool when a Finnish person says it.

Jason Elias:
I would try, but people would be like, "I think that's more Danish." So I will not-

Stephan Whelan:
More Danish. Wow. You ever dive with a Suunto before, Jason?

Jason Elias:
It was actually one of my first dive computers for my wrist, which was fantastic. And I remember being into it. It had a huge dial, which was fantastic.

Stephan Whelan:
Was it a big, bright yellow one?

Jason Elias:
No, I don't get anything that's not black, so this one was black.

Stephan Whelan:
Well, that's true. Like most divers, right?

Jason Elias:
Yeah. That's right. Well, I just dress in black all the time anyways. So we're talking here about the Suunto heritage. Not only was it my first dive computer, but they were the first to introduce dive computers' profile memory, ascent rate monitoring, scrollable user menus, backlights, watch sizes, and a compass.

Stephan Whelan:
Well, the compass thing is really interesting, because I didn't actually know this until I spoke to some of my friends over in Suunto. But they pioneered some of the compass. Nothing to do with diving. The guy behind Suunto actually created the compass that floats around in liquids. He pioneered that, and that's where Suunto came from.

Jason Elias:
Was that Mr Suunto? Jerry Suunto, was that Jerry Suunto?

Stephan Whelan:
It might've been, I'd have to look up his name. That's really terrible about not remembering his name, but it's very a Finnish name.

Jason Elias:
It's okay. I think it's Jerry.

Stephan Whelan:
Very Finnish name. And that's what he created, and that's where the whole company came from. And they then went beyond that to create all sorts of outdoor activities stuff. And I'll be honest, I've been a Suunto diver for pretty much my whole diving career. I've always had Suunto dive computer attached to my wrist, or I did have some air integrated stuff on my rigs and stuff before that. You'd probably cut me in half and it would probably read Suunto.

Jason Elias:
Right. Sure. Well, I got to say that all of these things we're talking about Suunto, the heritage, that's actually pretty cool. Obviously, I'm a huge fan of history. So the idea of these are the first people, I believe... Although I got to say the compass part, for me underwater, I know this is sacrilegious to say, but I don't need the compass. I just follow the Divemaster. I'm just looking around at what's going on around me.

Jason Elias:
I know that's terrible to say, because I'm a recreational diver. I'm not super hardcore, like a lot of people we've talked to on this podcast. So as long as the Divemaster's compass is working, I'm okay. But everything else, that's actually really cool. I love heritage. I love the idea of the fact that they started this kind of stuff. That's very cool.

Stephan Whelan:
It is very cool. So listen, I think everyone should go and check out the Suunto heritage stuff on deeperblue.com, and read a bit more about Suunto, because they have very cool backgrounds.

Jason Elias:
Suunto.

Stephan Whelan:
Suunto.

Mehgan Heany-Grier:
Finally, in every episode, we share a story from you, the dive community, where we ask you to tell us about your best dive ever.

David Gala:
My name's David Gala. My wife, Nancy, and I are artists who travel the world, seeking inspiration for our paintings. And this is the story of my best dive ever. It was on our honeymoon two years ago, when we visited the island of Rangiroa in the South Pacific Tuamoto Island chain. We had heard of Rangiroa as the shark and dolphin diving Mecca it is, and we couldn't wait to get into the water.

David Gala:
Rangiroa is a lagoon island, ring-shaped with only two major passes from open sea to inner lagoon. It's one of the largest lagoon islands in the world, with 900 square miles of lagoon surface and a maximum depth of only 35 feet. So as you can imagine, when the tide is low, all that lagoon water moving back out to sea creates a very powerful current in the major pass. And as you might also imagine, diving in the lagoon is a coral lover's dream.

David Gala:
In addition to being one of the most abundant coral ecosystems in the world, it's also a nursery for juvenile sharks who live in the lagoon until they're ready for the open sea. And it's the coming together of these two bodies of water where the real drama occurs. If a diver is lucky enough to dive Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa's major pass connecting the lagoon to the sea, during an outgoing tide at sunset, there's a scene which is difficult to even describe.

David Gala:
A little geographical overview is probably necessary. On the outgoing tide, the water rushing from the massive lagoon through a pass only a quarter of a mile wide and a quarter of a mile long, reaches speeds of about eight knots. A current so strong that divers are continually warned not to get swept out to sea in it. This however is exactly what a spawning fish loves to find, a current strong enough to carry their eggs far out to the open water at sunset.

David Gala:
So when the conditions are right, nearly every fish in the South Pacific seems to show up in the pass for spawning. Triggers, groupers, butterfly fish, anthia, wrasse, you name it. And when you get that many spawning fish, you also get hungry predators. Hundreds of sharks of a dozen species, schools of massive tuna, barracuda, reef sharks, tiger sharks, hammerheads, every kind of ray and more sharks. Also dolphins, and did I mention massive sharks?

David Gala:
The day we did the sunset outgoing tide Tiputa Pass, there had been rain and wind. The seas were 12 feet high on the rubber-sided dive boat, as we headed out to sea amidst leaping dolphins, whirling shearwaters, gulls and albatross. The water was already turning teal black with the setting sun, as we leaned back into the abyss, happy to be off that boat and into the much calmer water below.

David Gala:
As I oriented myself in the water, I realized that I had nearly plunged right in on top of a manta ray. It was my first manta encounter, and the size was hard to be prepared for at this close distance, as it gracefully banked to avoid colliding with me, moving peacefully back into the blue. As we approached the steep reef, about 40 feet down, we spotted a nearby barracuda tornado. It was exciting and I really wanted to investigate it, but our guides took us the opposite direction.

David Gala:
As exciting as it would have been to get into the middle of that tornado, we were here for the spawning at the pass, and the barracudas would wait another day. There was still a little light penetrating at 80 feet, as we approached the pass. Large predators, such as sharks and tuna, are common there at any time, but now they were in numbers which overwhelmed the senses. And their attitudes were charged with the enthusiasm for the hunt. Tuna put on bursts of speed, seeming to almost intimidate some of the sharks, which flinched out of their way as they hurdled past like torpedoes.

David Gala:
The sharks too were not only more abundant, but they moved differently. Sleek, languid cruising had turned into erratic, jolting motions with abrupt turns and bursts of speed. Everyone was hunting now, or spawning. Massive shoals of redtoothed triggerfish gathered just above the reef. Suddenly in a flash, a single female would swim at top speed about 10 feet above the mass, and release her eggs, diving back to the relative safety of the school just as quickly.

David Gala:
In another flash, a dozen or more males would raise to her egg cloud. Each trying to be the first to fertilize the eggs, before they were broadcast out to the open sea. There are many thousands of spawning triggerfish, but also the magnificent bumphead or Napoleon wrasse, which can weigh up to 400 pounds. They were congregating where I'd only seen solo individuals before. Everything was charged with struggle for food, sex, and survival. And our hearts were pounding as we tried to conserve our air.

David Gala:
That's when we saw another barracuda tornado on the edge of our visibility out to sea, just near the treacherous and invisible current, which could hurl unsuspecting divers out into the deep nights sea. I had told our guide that a barracuda tornado was on my bucket list, just before the dive. And so he pulled us off the wall and out into the open blue depths. It was the biggest school of barracuda imaginable. From our depth of about 80 feet, I could look up and still barely see some light at the surface. And the circling tornado of barracuda went all the way up.

David Gala:
As I looked down, it's hard to judge how far I could see into the limitless depths, with vision more obstructed by fish and sharks than by darkness. But it's safe to say that it was at least 100 feet down, with barracuda as far as I could see. We headed straight for them, and then straight through the wall and into the eye of the tornado. And here's what was so amazing to me. Everything seemed calm.

David Gala:
I had imagined these fierce predators with their snarly teeth to be acting like all the other fish, hunting and eating everything in sight. But they were calm, tranquil. And then I noticed that snappers, one of the barracuda's favorite foods, were in the tornado with us, just hanging out like they were taking shelter from the tuna and sharks, almost using the barracuda for protection. And then I saw more, actually schooling in with the barracuda who were definitely not hunting.

David Gala:
I've come to assume, though I found no real information on this behavior, that these barracuda were in sort of a sleep state, recognized by other fish who are normally on their menu. Then I noticed butterfly fish too were in their, and schools of silver-sided juveniles swam down from the surface, like falling sleet. But the barracuda remained calm and restful, even as the bait fish swam within inches of their faces.

David Gala:
Occasionally, a shark or tuna cruised through the eye and out the other side, like they were moving through a wall of smoke. Fish flinched, and then returned to their calm attitudes when the predator had passed. I did the same. That's when I became aware of my own state of mind, which had been pretty intense for a while now, with the boat ride and the high seas, and diving into a dark water full of feeding sharks, not to mention the thrill of the spawning, and the anxiety of leaving the wall to join schooling barracuda in gathering darkness.

David Gala:
But suddenly, I was calm. Like the fish around me, simply existing, taking in the view, trying to comprehend the beauty and complexity of the moment. I locked eyes with my new bride, Nancy, and we shared a silent acknowledgement of the profound emotions at that moment, before heading back to the surface to find our boat, lights on, waiting for us at the current's edge on the rolling sea. The next day, we had a dolphin encounter, which I believe is Nancy's favorite dive ever. And Rangiroa remains our favorite dive location and greatest inspiration for our paintings so far.

David Gala:
Be well, be safe, everyone.

Mehgan Heany-Grier:
We'd love to hear about your best dive ever, so please head over to deeperblue.com/bestdiveever to share your story about your best dive ever.

Linden Wolbert:
Thanks for listening to the DeeperBlue Podcast. Find out more about all the stories you've heard, plus connect with the world's largest dive community at deeperblue.com. If you liked what you've heard, please share, like and rate our show, wherever you get your podcasts, as those shares and likes really make a difference. Thanks so much, and see you next week.