In a recent interview from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic, touched on a number of interesting subjects, some related to the “unsinkable ship”, others going beyond that.
Firstly, Ballard believes that he has had many more important discoveries than the Titanic, and being known only for that discovery has been a source of frustration for him. This reminds me of Alec Guinness, a well-regarded actor in his own right, but often only acknowledged by the “public” for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi, which gave him endless frustration. Apparently, he was known for throwing away all Star Wars fan mail! In this interview, Ballard said “People ask me what I want to find next, and I say ‘a spaceship’, so I don’t have to talk about the Titanic.”
Ballard claims his greatest discoveries span a wide range of themes, including hydrothermal vents deep undersea, new life forms his team discovered in the Galapagos Islands, or ancient shipwrecks buried under the Black Sea.
Nevertheless, Ballard admits that its impossible for him to give a lecture or speech without at least discussing the Titanic—people just expect and demand it. One important issue he does consistently address is the future of the Titanic site and the preservation risks it faces. He notes: “It’s being loved to death by people landing on it and crushing it with their submarines. When you go to the Louvre you don’t stick your finger in the Mona Lisa.”
Perhaps another reason that Ballard can’t escape talking about his discovery of the Titanic are the Indiana Jones-esque circumstances under which that mission took place. While ostensibly he was searching for the Titanic, in fact he was on a secret mission sponsored by the US Navy to investigate two submarines that had sunk, the USS Thresher and the USS Scorpion. The Navy wanted primarily to assess the state of their nuclear reactors, but wanted to hide the entire effort from the Russians, as this took place during the heart of the cold war.
One of this more recent explorations took place in the Black Sea region in 2012. In December, 2012 he told a reporter that he had discovered solid proof of an ancient flood in the Black Sea. Many folks around the world took this as proof of the flood that was told of in Noah’s Ark in the Bible.
Ballard says: “There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Black Sea was flooded. We know because we went in and found the ancient shoreline.”
These days, Ballard, at age 70, is finding himself going out to sea less, and staying at home with his family more. His wife gives him a 5-week allowance to go out exploring, but Ballard notes: “Because of technology, I could put my entire expedition on my iPhone. I could be at the bottom of the ocean all day, and have a glass of wine with my wife [in the evening].”