Underwater insights

- January 29, 2018

Jill Heinerth at work.
Jill Heinerth at work.

In her 25 years as a deep-sea diver, Jill Heinerth has ventured into some of the most remote areas of the world’s ocean, from an aquifer off the coast of northeast Africa to the frigid, dangerous waters surrounding the Earth’s polar regions.

The veteran underwater explorer, named last year as the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s inaugural Explorer in Residence, visited Dal last Monday (January 22) as a guest of the Marine Affairs program to share stories from some her most challenging expeditions.

Amazing sights

Some adventures have proven more harrowing than others, like a recent trip to the Arctic where she had the chance to plunge below sea level for a rarely seen glimpse beyond the tip of an iceberg.

“We found cracks and crevices and actual hollowed out spaces within and below the icebergs, where we found just remarkable and interesting life,” she told a full house gathered in the MacMachen Auditorium for her talk.

But it was the same currents sustaining life within those tunnels that ended up trapping her and her team in the iceberg.

“We had to go up through a fissure crack, but the current was just pounding itself on top of us and the ice walls were too slippery,” she recounted, noting they eventually made their way out of the frozen mass by using crevices in the ice made by fish.

With tales like these, it is no surprise Heinerth has produced television series for the likes of National Geographic, PBS and BBC.

Awards and honours

Last year, Heinerth was the recipient of the diving world’s highest award for sports and education from the Academy of Underwater Arts and Science and was presented with the Polar Award by the Governor General of Canada.

Heinerth’s position as Explorer-in-Residence has allowed her to undertake Canada-wide speaking tours, inspiring the next generation of underwater explorers and helping them make the right connections to create opportunities for the future.

Haley Welsh, a Dalhousie Master of Marine Marine Management student, said she came to Heinerth's talk because “her work has been really inspiring to the entire class,” noting the advances that she made in marine science during her 25-year career.

“I really like her work… and being a woman in science while working with many kinds of people is challenging, and she seems to do it with seeming ease,” she added.


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