Scuba diving’s aura of daring and adventure, as well as its frequency in exotic locations, has made the sport a favorite of moviemakers for decades. Films such as “The Deep” and “Thunderball” have brought diving to the movie-going public, but just because an actor drops to depth doesn’t make a movie’s depiction of scuba diving accurate. Follow along while we test three of the most common Tinseltown tricks when it comes to scuba.
1. Breathing straight from a tank
Paul Walker attempts this trick in “Into the Blue” when attempting an emergency dive to help a trapped diver out of a wreck. With no time to don his gear, he simply grabs a tank and breathes straight from the valve, opening and closing it as needed. But with the immense pressure inside a dive tank, would you even be able to do this? And wouldn’t you get a mouthful of water instead?
Actually, there are number of emergency dive courses around the world that teach this skill. The trick is to feather the valve opening so as to release only enough air that you can actually breathe it, and then to suck the air in through your lips, avoiding excessive air coming in with it. Breathing straight from a tank would never be comfortable, but doing so could give you enough air to surface if needed.
2. Sharks are really, really dangerous
If anyone gets as much as a paper cut during a dive in a movie, the sharks scurry in, harassing the divers. And more often than not, the man-eaters chew up at least one of the divers, usually minor character or one of the baddies. Because sharks are attracted by blood, right? And it sends them into a feeding frenzy.
I’ve covered the relatively benign nature of sharks many times here on Scuba Diver Life. Let me sum it up by saying that more people are bitten by New Yorkers every year than by sharks; many more people die from coconuts falling on them than because of a shark bite. And while sharks can pick up smells over impressive distances, there’s been no hard science to indicate that human blood is a major attractor to them. Furthermore, sharks often hunt alone, not in packs. For movie purposes, they usually use lemon sharks, a very curious and even friendly shark species, as these do congregate in packs, especially in certain parts of the Caribbean.
3. Ascend too fast, and your body will explode
A diver is doing a deep dive, or perhaps even a saturation dive in a dive bell at the bottom of the ocean. For some reason, he shoots for the surface fast due to panic, sharks, or monsters from the deep. As he rises, the diver first groans, then convulses, bleeds, and finally explodes in a bloody, pulpy mess due to the greater pressure inside his body versus the ambient pressure.
In reality, the human body is structurally able to handle a great deal of pressure. Free divers, such as Herbert Nitsch, have done rapid descents and ascents to more than 500 feet without their bodies either collapsing on descent or exploding on ascent. The real danger of a too-rapid ascent from deep water is of course decompression illness, not a full-body explosion.
Of course, Hollywood has included many more myths in their films featuring diving; these are the ones I’ve heard debated and re-told most often. Know of other dive myths from movies? Post them below, and I’ll try to address whether or not they’re based on fact — or fiction.