7 Questions - Kelvin Murray, Founder of Silvertipworld.com

1st November 2011   |   Jackie Hutchings

Kelvin Murray is a professional diver, explorer, presenter and writer. The founder and owner of Silvertipworld Expedition and Diving Management [www.silvertipworld.com], Kelvin provides specialist services to the expedition and media industries.

A world-class diver with multiple instructor ratings plus commercial and technical diving qualifications, Kelvin over-wintered in Antarctica as Field Diving Officer for the British Antarctic Survey in 2007. Expedition diving enables Kelvin to dive and guide all over the world, on every continent and in every ocean. He has explored polar seas to tropical reefs with high definition cameras and ROV technology. His clients include European and American expedition companies as well as National Geographic photographers and filmmakers, *BBC *producers and French television presenters whom he advises on equipment, filming / diving techniques and wildlife.

Working in collaboration with Dr. Sylvia Earle’s SEAlliance Foundation, he contributes video footage and stills images to the Ocean layer of Google Earth, whilst also sourcing and mentoring other contributors.

Kelvin lives in his native Scotland – a place he still insists has some of the best diving and marine life in the world.

1. When did you realise you wanted to be a diver?

For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by the oceans, the poles and the natural world. I remember watching ’20,000 Leagues Under The Sea [DVD]’ [affiliate link] with Kirk Douglas and James Mason – seeing the characters explore the seabed in hard hats and SCUBA completely flicked my switches. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties with a disposable income that I realised I could learn to dive and achieve my dream – I was hooked from my first pool session!

2. When did you decide that you could make a living from it?

That was when I decided to go from Rescue Diver to Divemaster. I enjoyed dive leading and teaching but didn’t want to work in the Red Sea or Thailand churning out certifications – I was afraid of becoming disenchanted as I had seen others become. Training in Scotland meant I was already working in relatively tough conditions but enjoying all that cold water has to offer. I steered my training towards more varied and extreme options – by diversifying I have worked in recreational instruction, media, scientific and archaeological operations plus inland and inshore diving projects. Offshore saturation diving holds no appeal to me. When I tell people I work as a diver, they assume within the oil and gas industry – I enjoy explaining to them all the other avenues. Best tip for working as a diver – remember there is no fast road to success; you have to start at the top and work your way down…!

3. What’s the best dive you’ve ever done and why?

I’ve worked hard and been able to do some amazing diving. I don’t think I could nail down any one single dive, but some do really stand out. One in particular took place at the aptly named Inaccessible Island, Tristan da Cunha on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – it is one of the most remote islands on the planet

I rolled off the Zodiac inflatable and descended through the kelp forest to the seabed at 18 metres. I deliberately stood upright on the shingle with my back to a large rock and waited. I didn’t have to wait long – my curious posture [there aren’t many ‘tall’ animals in the ocean!] and noisy bubbles made me a curiosity to the Broadnosed Sevengill shark. I’d heard these prehistoric-looking animals had a habit of sneaking up behind you, and I was unsure how they would approach a lone diver – hence my back to the wall. The first shark swam out of the green water and made an incredibly close pass, calmly giving me the eye. I filmed it as it swam off along the kelp edge, when suddenly a large brown shape swam over my shoulder and I nearly jumped out of my suit! Thankfully not a shark, but a Sub-Antarctic fur seal. The seal turned a few somersaults, gazing at me with big brown eyes before swimming off.

As I watched it leave I caught something out of the corner of my eye – another Sevengill sneaking in. It swam past and then turned sharply into the kelp, then abruptly once again – this time swimming straight at me. I thought I was in its blind spot, until it turned its head, stared at me, straightened up…then swam between my knees!

It was a real privilege to spend some time with the locals, for them to be so welcoming, and I got some great footage! There’s an edit of that footage on the Silvertip YouTube page.

4. What is the one dive that you still want to do?

I’m going to cheat and call two – being in the water with Orca would blow my mind and there are some walls in Antarctica I’d like to explore deeper. I’ve sat at 45 metres looking down at massive sponges growing out from these walls. Some scientists speculate there could be 10,000 year-old sponges in Antarctica – what else might be down there? I’d like to go back with some scientists and a rebreather team.

5. What’s the scariest thing that’s happened to you on a dive?

I was in Antarctica filming at a dive site called Neptune’s Bellows, which is the entrance to the flooded caldera of a sleeping volcano called Deception Island. This bottleneck entrance should be dived at slack water due to swift currents. Upon descent I realised the viz was pretty poor at only a few metres, plus the current was picking up. I could also hear Leopard seal vocalisations and I couldn’t hear the clunking gear changes of my support boat. I measured things up; I was solo in crap viz, sub-zero water with the current pushing me out to sea, plus there was a Leopard in the area. I bugged out thinking things could only get worse. I surfaced to find the Zodiac drifting about 400 metres away with the driver not paying any attention to my bubbles. I had a few Anglo-Saxon words for him later. Other than that, my scariest moments have involved other divers terrifying me with their antics and complacency.

6. Silvertip has a range of services. What’s the absolute favourite part of your job?

Silvertip does offer a range of services, from training to guiding to filmmaking, but my absolute favourite has to be introducing people to the wildlife.

Whether it is finding a Zebra shark on a Madagascar reef, watching a female Polar bear suckle her young, or introducing divers to a Leopard seal thrashing a penguin – showing people the truth and beauty of our amazing blue planet is a real privilege.

I get a real kick out of spotting, identifying and tracking a Blue whale – then seeing the look on people’s faces as it surfaces alongside the ship!

7. It’s 2020, where are you now and what have you done?

I’m in Edinburgh, have just dropped the kids off at school and am walking my dog home. In my head I’m planning my return trip to Vancouver to film Giant pacific octopus and Salmon sharks. I get a phone call from my two staff divers who are guiding another educational trip to the Sardine Run in South Africa. I have to get back to the office in time for a meeting with my producer to talk about the sequel to my highly successful underwater exploration TV series, before lunch with my lovely lady who’s been washing my dive gear all morning… Okay, maybe that last bit was pure fantasy!

[Main Image Photo Credit : Alistair Simpson]

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