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Top Five Things Movies Get Wrong About Scuba Diving

Hollywood has long been fascinated with scuba diving, but rarely nails the portrayal of our sport. Here are the top five things movies get wrong about scuba diving.

Movies have featured scuba diving almost since the sport began. Scuba’s exotic and adventuresome elements have peaked the imagination of many Hollywood screenwriters and directors, from the James Bond film “Thunderball” to the Nick Nolte treasure-hunting thriller “The Deep,” and of course Spielberg’s classic “Jaws.” But just Hollywood is fascinated with diving doesn’t mean they get it right. Here are the top five things movies get wrong about scuba diving.

Sharks are a diver’s nemesis

Put a hero underwater in a wetsuit and there’s a pretty good chance a menacing shark will appear. From the aforementioned “Jaws” to more modern films such as “Into the Blue” and “Deep Blue Sea,” sharks seem to have it in for scuba divers.

Of course, statistics speak loud and clear against that trope. Shark attacks are rare and even rarer when it comes to scuba divers. Maybe scuba divers look weird with all their gear on, maybe it’s our bubbles — no one really knows. What we do know is that sharks, while creatures to be respected, are generally not creatures to be feared. In fact, shark sightings are the highlight of a dive for most of us.

Divers swim really fast

On screen, divers always seem to be moving very fast. They kick their fins furiously and swim along at high speeds, likely because the generally languid pace of real-life scuba diving doesn’t translate well into fast-paced underwater action. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in “Thunderball,” where the editor sped up the underwater footage to make it look more dynamic.

In real life, slower is better. Diving slowly means you conserve air and thusly extend your dive. You also tend to spot more marine life when you move slower. Finally, overexertion adds to the risk of decompression illness, a far worse enemy than sharks.

Divers mix up their gasses

In a recent “NCIS” episode, the investigators are looking into a Navy diver’s death. They test the gas in his tanks and find he was diving nitrox, making their forensic expert conclude that he must have planned to dive very deep to choose nitrox over regular air. Oh, Abby.

Nitrox, or more accurately, enriched air, is an air blend with extra oxygen in the mix, usually up to 40 percent (compared to 21 percent in standard air). The added oxygen — and thusly reduced nitrogen — makes it possible to stay at a given depth longer because the body absorbs less nitrogen. But diving nitrox really means that you can’t dive as deep as on regular air due to the risk of oxygen toxicity when breathing oxygen at a high partial pressure.

Anything is diveable

If a plane or ship goes down in a movie, the hero straps on a scuba tank and goes diving for it. “Into the Blue” and another Bond movie, “For Your Eyes Only” are great examples. However, the ocean is deep. Really deep. And only a tiny fraction of the world’s ocean floors lie at diveable depths. Chances are high that whatever goes down ends up at depths far out of reach of our scuba-diving protagonist.

Explosions aren’t a problem underwater

Bond gets bombed with grenades in “Thunderball.” An explosion engulfs Paul Walker when a submerged plane blows up in “Into the Blue,” and Matthew McConaughey gets thrown out of the water and onto a ship’s deck rigged with dynamite in “Fool’s Gold.” What do these three, and more, have in common? They survive. In real life, not so much.

Explosions kill in two ways: shrapnel and pressure. And yes, underwater, shrapnel would slow down greatly, to the point of being rendered harmless very quickly. But the increased density of water compared to air means that the pressure wave of an explosion is actually far deadlier underwater than above. So, in real life, the heroes wouldn’t live to swim another day if they found themselves close by an explosion.