The Shipwreck Hunter: An interview with David Mearns

Much of David Mearns work as a shipwreck hunter is the analysis of images and sonar scans. Image: David Mearns. 

Much of David Mearns work as a shipwreck hunter is the analysis of images and sonar scans. Image: David Mearns.

“People think ‘That was it, the deep oceans became accessible to man with Titanic in 1985’. Well, that’s completely false.”

David Mearns is one of the world’s pre-eminent shipwreck hunters. His company, Blue Water Recoveries, has an 88% recovery rate. He discovered the HMAS Sydney, and the Kormoran, the HMS Hood, the Royal Navy flagship sunk by the Bismarck, Vasco da Gama’s Esmerelda (which sunk in 1503), the Lucona a cargo ship sunk by a time bomb that murdered its crew and the Rio Grande, the deepest shipwreck ever found – at 5,762 metres.

How to Become a Shipwreck Hunter

But Mearns wasn’t interested in history at University. He actively avoided it, instead, he concentrated on getting degrees in marine biology and later, marine geology. He found work in the offshore industry, helping search and recovery for the US Navy. This is what sparked his now lifelong obsession as a shipwreck hunter: part detective, part archaeologist, part deep ocean adventurer – and historian.

His passion for the stories of the past drives him thousands of metres below the waves.

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What is it about deep water?

If you’re a swimmer, even though you know you’ll be fine, just the idea of being suspended above something tens, let alone thousands of metres dark and deep can cause that weird tingling combination of excitement and fear.

As part of the USA Gallery program, we’ve been negotiating with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts to bring Deepsea Challenger to the museum. This is the submersible vessel piloted by James Cameron 11kms down to the bottom of Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. It’s a bit like having the lunar lander from Apollo 11 on display, only in reverse!

DeepSea Challenger at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, photo: A Tarantino WHOI

DeepSea Challenger at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, photo: A Tarantino WHOI


What makes it extra special is that Deepsea Challenger was built (in secret) in Sydney. Continue reading