Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Key Largo dive spawned young girl’s passion for scuba

It was during a cruise on the family boat from Hamilton, Ontario, to the Bahamas that Tess Miller came to appreciate her parents’ passion for scuba diving.

Just eight years old at the time, Tess, from London, Ontario, had taken some scuba lessons before the journey began. But she first experienced the beauty and serenity of diving in Key Largo. They were waiting there to rendezvous with two other families who also had their own boats, before going on together to their Bahamas destination.

“We dove every other day. It was amazing. I found it so peaceful,” says Tess. “It is my favourite thing to do. Any problem you have is wiped away under water. Everything is so quiet and beautiful. The water is crystal clear and the fish are stunning. I was very comfortable.”

Charlie Miller, Tess’s father, says Pennykamp, a protected coral reef off the Florida Keys, was their prime diving site in that area. It has great coral and aquatic life. “We were two months in that area.”
One of the things Tess saw underwater near Key Largo was the Christ statue, 30 or 40 feet down. “It is life size or bigger. I couldn’t really tell.”

Later, near Staniel Cay in the Exumas, a district of the Bahamas with almost 400 islands, she dove with her family in the Thunderball Grotto, a rock formation with a huge opening. Popular with both scuba divers and snorkelers, it was featured in two James Bond Movies, Thunderball and Never Say Never Again.

“That is my most vivid dive,” says Tess. “There is a hole in the ceiling and the light that shines through made it surreal. The whole cave was filled with fish. It was amazing.”

Her other favourite dive is the shark dive off Paradise Island in the Bahamas. “It’s a planned event. You sit in a circle called a ring and there is a person feeding the sharks. They don’t bite the hand that feeds them.”

The boat trip itself was an experience. Originating in Hamilton, Ontario in mid-August of 2004, the first part of the trip involved navigating the Erie Barge Canal, which connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean at New York. When they got to Baltimore they left their 53-foot vessel there for repairs, before continuing on. There were several other repair stops along the way. The southbound trip was made in segments of a week at a time. They arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida a few days after Christmas in 2004, before moving on to Key Largo.

From there they headed to the Bahamas, with their first stop there being Cat Cay to clear customs. Then it was on to Chubb Cay, 35 miles west of Nassau. Some good diving followed.

“We started to anchor out and felt we were remote. We were out for days just living on the boat,” says Charlie.
Nassau was the next stop to get provisions before heading south for the Exumas islands. “It (the Exumas) was magnificent. The beaches are unbelievable. They are like the postcards,” says Charlie.

There is an island there inhabited by pigs that swim out to meet boaters, who have been feeding them for years. “The pigs will come up to the boat and you can feed them,” adds Charlie.

The Exumas has a “land and sea protected park.” Fishing is not allowed.

Underwater, the Millers found an old shipwreck that was “crawling with lobsters.”

The family started to work their way home in May, beginning with restocking in Nassau. “Then we went out to Eleuthera, a really exclusive series of islands northeast of Nassau, where we dove some wrecks, Charlie says.

They reached Freeport by mid-May of 2005 before heading on to Fort Lauderdale. From there it took them just 21 days to get back to Port Stanley, Ontario, on Lake Erie’s northern shore. They accomplished that by running 10 to 12 hours a day, as well as some “all nighters.”

It was the end of June by the time they got home, but on July 15 they decided to take the boat north to Killarney, Ontario, in the North Channel.

“When we got back to London we were still prepared to go for another trip.”

Diving has been a long-time passion for the Miller family, beginning with Charlie’s diving certification about 30 years ago in the British Virgin Islands. He was the first to dive the 250-foot, steel-hulled freighter SS Wexford, which sank in a storm in November of 1913 eight miles off the Lake Huron shoreline from Grand Bend, Ontario. That discovery was made on Aug. 25, 2000.

Tess, now 17 and on schedule to finish high school soon, has now logged about 75 dives, of which 40 to 50 were on the boat trip to the Bahamas.

There will be many more dives for Tess. As well as easy access to summer diving in Lake Huron, she has passage to warmer waters much farther south.

“I have a 55-foot Sea Ray, full of dive gear in Nassau,” says Charlie. “It’s a great dive boat. We go down once a month from October to March. We have 10 special dive sites around Nassau.”

Access to great diving with her family has whetted Tess’s appetite for diving much farther away: “I would like to do some of the big dives, like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, things that most people that dive would love to see.”

Kathy Dowsett

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cookie Cutter Sharks

Thanks to e-How

The cookie cutter shark is a relatively small deepwater shark known for its rather unusual feeding habits and the round wounds it leaves on its prey items. There is still relatively little known about this elusive species, but better deep sea exploration and improved dissection techniques in recovered specimens have helped shed light on it. While the species is not considered threatened, they are difficult to find and observe due to their deep water habitat.


The cookie cutter shark was once called the cigar shark due to the fish's dark brown color and long, rounded shape. Most cookie cutters average 12 to 15 inches long, though specimens as large as 20 inches have been recorded. The shark has a distinctive, rounded jaw opening with somewhat fleshy lips and protruding lower teeth.


Cookie cutters have been observed at depths of over 11,000 feet, though it is highly possible that they travel deeper still. Like many deep sea species, cookie cutters generally rise to much shallower depths in search of prey during the night, and return to deeper water by daylight. Their range is vast, and specimens have been recovered in virtually every sea in the world. Like many other deep sea fish, they do not do well in captivity. Little is known about their reprodiction habits, except that females give birth to live young. Litters may average five to seven sharks, but that data was insufficient as of 2010.


Considered a parasitic species, the shark attaches itself to large prey items such as squid, whales, and even other sharks by suctioning on with its fleshy lips. The shark then sinks its lower teeth into the flesh of its victim, and through a combination of swiveling its teeth and thrashing its body, removes an almost perfect circle of flesh from the prey animal---just like a cookie cutter. This process is normally over in a few quick movements, and most prey animals will recover with just a scar as evidence of the attack.

Other Adaptations

Large eyes help the cookie cutter see at extremely low light levels, which makes it very much at home in dark waters. The cookie cutter's enlarged liver is filled with low-density oils that help the shark remain floating in its high-pressure deep sea environment. It also has a small bioluminescent patch on its abdomen, which glows to attract prey.

Interesting Facts

Cookie cutters shed their entire lower row of teeth all at once, rather than singularly like other sharks. This ensures that the shark has a razor sharp cutting edge at all times, and acts to prevent individual teeth from becoming dull and snagging in the flesh of prey items. Another point of interest is that the bioluminescent patch on the shark's abdomen may continue to glow for up to three hours after its death.

Kathy Dowsett

Monday, November 4, 2013

Compressed Gas Tears Skin, Penetrates Body

Reprinted From Divers Alert Network for the Diving Community

A scuba diving high-pressure hose ruptures, causing air under pressure to inject into arm.

Reported Story

The boat driver was helping one of the divers. He held the first-stage regulator with his left hand and opened the tank valve with right hand. At that moment the high-pressure hose ruptured, and a jet of gas under pressure made a hole in the boat driver's left hand.

His hand started to bleed and appeared to be full of air. We stopped the bleeding by applying pressure, and we stopped the air from spreading further by applying a bandage at armpit area. We massaged his arm, pushing the trapped air to his hand. This helped a bit; we saw some bubbles coming out of his hand.

We called for an ambulance and administered oxygen during the time it took us to return to the harbor, approximately 20 minutes. The ambulance were there when we arrived.

I recommended that his boss to take him to the recompression chamber, but he told me the doctors would take care of him. I later asked about his state of health, and his boss told me he is OK and ready to go back to work.

Expert Comments

The injury described above is rare, especially outside of an industrial setting. Certain terms do need to be clarified for discussion purposes. In the diving vernacular any reference to high pressure (HP) is related to the compressed gas in the cylinder at 3,000 psi. Any reference to low pressure (LP) relates to the intermediate pressure that results from reduction of high pressure in the first stage. Typically this can range from 120 psi to 140 psi. Clinical references designate any pressure at and above 100 psi as HP. It has been established that pressure at a minimum of 100 psi can penetrate unbroken skin.1 These wounds require immediate medical treatment no matter how benign they might appear.

In the industrial setting the possible materials that can be injected at HP include but are not limited to compressed gas, oil, grease, solvents, paints and diesel fuel. There are, of course, greater concerns with the petroleum products and other chemicals due to their toxicity and potential tissue damage. The risk of an inflammatory reaction from surrounding tissues and infection is quite high.

In the diving environment compressed gas is obviously the most likely injectible. Industrial workers who sustain these injuries are generally inexperienced or unfamiliar with the devices they are using or servicing. With divers, familiarity may lead to a certain level of complacency. Despite fewer potential complications there is still a risk of secondary injuries that can result from any HP injection injury.

Common injection injury sites are the palm or fingers of the nondominant hand. Injection into a finger(s) can be particularly problematic. The fingers cannot accommodate a large volume of any material due to limited tissue compartment space. The immediate insufflation and swelling can cause vascular compression, which can severely compromise circulation. The palm of the hand or other similar sites can accommodate the same volume with less risk of circulatory issues. However, a larger volume can produce the same risk of vascular compromise.

While compressed gas poses less risk from toxicity or surrounding tissue damage compared with other possible injected substances, it is not benign. Along with the compressed gas, fragments of hose, brass fittings and bacteria from the skin or environment will be injected into the wound simultaneously. This is part of the mechanism for a high infection risk.

It is unknown if there was any previous problems or concerns with the HP hose on this regulator. It is also unknown if a visual inspection would have offered any suggestion of hose failure. It is still worthwhile to remember to inspect all hoses and consider periodic replacement. Please discuss these issues with a local certified repair technician.

Proper first aid should include bleeding control and urgent transport to the nearest medical facility. For a compressed-gas injection, surface oxygen is of little benefit as it would not expedite the absorption or elimination of the injected gas. Treatment in a hyperbaric chamber is not an appropriate first choice for treatment for this type of injury. The bystanders made an effort to express the gas through the injection site by massaging the arm. This is not recommended. They may have inadvertently forced the gas into other areas or into the fingers. Forcing the gas into the fingers could further complicate the injury, as explained previously. Some HP injection injuries may require surgical intervention to reduce pressure and to clean the wound. Thorough cleaning and disinfection is best left to the medical professionals.

This is a very rare injury, but diligence and forethought will likely reduce the occurrence. Do not underestimate the energy released with the rapid expansion of compressed gas. Cases like the above should not increase fear but rather remind us to be respectful of the potential consequences of inattention.

Thanks again to Divers Alert Network

Kathy Dowsett