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Diving Records: Humans vs. Animals

While most of us scuba dive or freedive for sheer enjoyment, there are some athletes that dedicate their lives to pursuing new records. The desire to dive deeper or longer than any other person on the planet can be dangerous, and men and women in both disciplines have lost their lives in the attempt to be the best in their chosen field. For marine animals, diving achievements are instinctive rather than competitive – and yet, they are physiologically predisposed to surpass humans in almost every aspect of life underwater. In this article, we take a look how the world’s current freediving and scuba diving record holders measure up to their animal counterparts.

Record for the Deepest Dive

Herbert Nitsch On His No Limits Sled
Herbert Nitsch On His No Limits Sled

The current depth record for scuba diving belongs to Egyptian diver Ahmed Gabr. In 2014, Gabr descended to an astonishing depth of 332 meters/ 1,090 feet off the coast of Dahab, Egypt, with the assistance of multiple cylinders filled with Trimix. The assisted freediving depth record goes to Herbert Nitsch, who reached 253 meters/ 830 feet in 2012 – but paid for his achievement with months of rehabilitation after contracting extreme decompression sickness on his ascent. William Trubridge holds the world depth record for free immersion freediving, having successfully completed a dive to 124 meters/ 407 feet in the Bahamas in 2016.

Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)

The incredible achievements of all three men pale in comparison to the existing depth record for a marine mammal, however. In 2014, researchers off the coast of California recorded the dive of a Cuvier’s beaked whale, which descended to 2,992 meters/ 9,874 feet in search of its preferred prey, the deep-sea squid. Deep diving comes naturally for these cetaceans, whose unique adaptations include a collapsible rib cage and the ability to store unprecedented amounts of oxygen in their muscles. Also in 2014, scientists filmed an unnamed species of snailfish swimming at over 8,000 meters/ 26,000 feet in the Mariana Trench – making this the deepest known fish.

Record for the Longest Dive

Turkish Diver Cem Karabay Sets Guinness World Record For Six-Day Dive (photo credit: DiverNet)
Turkish Diver Cem Karabay Sets Guinness World Record For Six-Day Dive (photo credit: DiverNet)

The Guinness World Record for the longest open saltwater scuba dive is currently held by Cem Karabay, who spent 142 hours and 42 minutes underwater during a record attempt in Cyprus in 2016. The official record for the longest open freshwater scuba dive belongs to Jerry Hall, for a 2004 dive timed at 120 hours and 1 minute. Although not yet recognized by Guinness World Records, Hall later extended his time to 145 hours and 31 minutes in 2013. Freediver Aleix Segura is the current Guinness World Record holder for the longest oxygen-assisted breath hold. In 2016, he remained submerged for 24 minutes and 3 seconds during a dive show in Barcelona.

Clearly, non-air breathing fish win this category hands down – but even marine mammals have some serious contenders amongst their ranks. The record for the longest diving marine mammal belongs to the same Cuvier’s beaked whale that broke the depth records in 2014. On the same dive, this individual remained underwater for 2 hours and 17 minutes. This achievement is a 17-minute improvement on the previous record, which belonged to a southern elephant seal documented in 1992 for a dive of 2 hours.

Record for Diving at the Highest Altitude

The world’s highest living fish is the Tibetan stone loach, found in hot springs near Longmu Lake in western Tibet at an altitude of 5,200 meters/ 17,100 feet. Ironically, one of the world’s lowest dwelling fish belongs to a member of the same scientific genus and is found 50 meters/ 160 feet below sea level in the Turpan Depression of western China.

Altitude is one category where humans definitely have the upper hand. The Guinness World Record for the highest altitude scuba dive belongs to Hungarian diver Dr. Erno Tósoki, who successfully completed a dive in a lake located on the eastern flank of Ojos del Salado volcano in 2016. The volcano, which lies on the border of Argentina and Chile in the Andes Mountains, is the world’s highest active volcano and its crater lake is the highest lake on Earth. The elevation recorded for Tósoki’s dive was 6,382 meters/ 20,938 feet.

Record for the Oldest Diver

Although his attempt has yet to be officially confirmed by Guinness World Records, the title of world’s oldest scuba diver belongs to Ray Woolley, a British nonagenarian who celebrated his 94th birthday with a dive to the wreck of the Zenobia in Cyprus in 2017. On his celebratory dive, Woolley reached 38 meters and stayed underwater for 41 minutes.

Ming The Mollusc
Ming The Mollusc

In comparison, the longest-lived marine mammal is the bowhead whale, thought to regularly live beyond 200 years. The longest-lived marine animal (and indeed, the oldest animal on land or sea) was an ocean quahog clam named Ming. Dredged from the seafloor in 2006, Ming was scientifically dated to 1499, giving it a jaw-dropping age of 507 years. When it comes to longevity, however, nothing can beat the Turritopsis dohrnii jellyfish. Once this species reaches sexual maturity, it can revert to its polyp stage if it becomes injured or sick and spawn new, genetically identical copies of itself. This process can occur over and over again indefinitely, rendering the animal biologically immortal.

Jessica Macdonald
Jessica Macdonald
Originally from the UK, Jessica now lives on South Africa's spectacular east coast. She's a qualified PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor, as well as a keen conservationist and shark fanatic. When she's not underwater, she can be found at her computer where she works as a freelance diving and travel writer.


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