If Anyone Asks, I’m Training To Be a Fish

Open Water

I read something the other day that I can’t stop thinking about.

This Is What Happens to Your Heart When You Dive Into the Sea, a Buzzfeed piece by James Nestor, the author of DEEP: Freediving, Renegade Science and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves

Its lede; which did its job and entirely seduced me:

The next time you’re at the beach your body will undergo the most profound transformation you can naturally experience. This is not a psychic prophecy; I don’t have a precognition. The transformation I am describing will be physical, and it will be real. It’s the result of millions of years of human evolution, a trigger of ancient genes which you and all other humans share with billions of other deep-diving animals.

It looks something like this: You will be lying on the sand. You skin will be warmed by the sun. You will become hot and thirst for a swim in the ocean. You will pick yourself up and stroll to the water’s edge, wade calmly into the lapping waves, and jump in. The moment your face submerges in the sea’s salty waters, a Hulk-like metamorphosis will trigger. Blood will begin rushing from your hands and feet, up your legs and arms, and into your core; your heart rate will reflexively lower 25% its normal rate; your mind will enter a meditative, almost dreamlike-state. If you choose to dive deeper, the transformation will grow more profound until you bare only a passing resemblance to your terrestrial form. You will become a water animal—a fish, essentially.

What Nestor is talking about is called the Master Switch of Life—the mammalian dive reflex. These reflexes affect the brain, lungs, heart and other organs to protect us from intense underwater pressure. As Nestor explains, in the 1950s scientists predicted that the deepest we could dive and survive was 100 feet (30 meters). Freedivers have since survived more than 700 feet (213 meters) and regularly dive to 300 feet (91 meters).

I thought it might be crazy talk, but a bit of googling makes me think Nestor’s work isn’t entirely dismissible. The National Geographic ran an interview with him, and the Wall Street Journal reviewed the book.

So now I’m obsessed. Step 1: read the book. Step 2: get to some warmer ocean. Step 3: start fish training.


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