It was said that more people had walked on the Moon than had dived to the deepest part of Earth’s ocean, but not anymore. Don Walsh (alongside Jacques Piccard) were the first people to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Don was followed by his son, Kelly Drennan Walsh, 60 years later. SOI sat down with Don and Kelly to ask what it was like to explore 11km below the surface and why understanding and protecting the ocean is more important than ever.
This interview is part of an educational series called Channel 49, made possible with support from the U.S. Embassy in Canada.
Thanks to support from the U.S. Embassy in Canada, Channel 49 will feature industry leaders and youth discussing the Arctic, the social and environmental challenges and opportunities it faces, and innovative ways Canada and the U.S. are working together towards bilateral cooperation in the Arctic.
Don Walsh is an explorer, oceanographer and lecturer. Enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1948, he graduated from Annapolis in 1954. During a 24 year naval career he spent 14 years at sea, mostly in submarines including command. At retirement he held the rank of Captain. Don’s polar experience began with trips to the Arctic in 1955 and the Antarctic with the Navy’s Deep Freeze in 1971. He has worked at both North and South Poles and is eligible to wear the Antarctic Service Medal. The Walsh Spur (near Cape Hallett) was named for him in recognition of his contributions to the U.S. Antarctic Research Program.
Don may be best known for making oceanographic history in 1960 with Jacques Piccard when they dove 35,800 feet down in the Navy Bathyscaph Trieste to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, deepest place in the world ocean. For this historic descent, never duplicated since, Walsh was decorated by President Eisenhower at the White House.
Don is the Author of over 150 articles and papers, and has been an advisor for the White House, NOAA and NASA. He was appointed by Presidents Carter and Reagan to the U.S. National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere, was a member of the Law of the Sea Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of State, and served as a member of the Marine Board of the U.S. National Research Council from 1990 to 1993. In 2001 received the Explorers Club highest award, The Explorer’s Medal.
Kelly Drennan Walsh is an advertising and marketing professional with over 28 years of experience. As art director/copywriter, he represented an international roster of clients before moving into the non-profit sector as a consultant. He served as director of marketing for a public radio station in Santa Fe, NM, where he also produced and hosted a radio show and acted as remote events coordinator and programming advisor.
Once freed from the bonds of corporate life, he sought ways to bridge the gap between scientific research and the public/policy makers, creating a better understanding of the issues that affect the planet and its inhabitants. His ultimate goal is to partner science and technology with decision makers, media and academia to foster meaningful dialog and rational policy choices.
Beginning in 2012, his visits to Antarctica, the Canadian Arctic and Greenland solidified his commitment to bring critical scientific and environmental issues to the forefront of our discussions on climate, conservation and political action. Also in 2012, Kelly had the opportunity to join James Cameron’s expedition back to Challenger Deep, where his father, Don Walsh, had made the historic dive 52 years prior.
The Caladan Oceanic “Ring of Fire” Expedition in 2020 was a culmination of 40 years of travel and adventure, and on the 60th anniversary of the Trieste dive, the special bond between a father and son has never been more apparent. Exploring the same spot that Don Walsh visited six decades ago has meaning beyond words.
Mr. Walsh an alum of St. John’s College, certified master naturalist (Oregon State University) and has contributed to SOI’s Arctic expeditions since 2014 as a Zodiac driver, naturalist and support staff.