David M. Owen

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has received word of the death
April 11, 2006 of David M. Owen at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital in
Saanichton, British Columbia, Canada.  He was 81.

David Moore Owen was born September 2, 1924 in Saco, Maine and attended
Thornton Academy in Saco before transferring to Hopkins Grammar School
in New Haven, CT.  He studied pre-med at Bates College in
Lewiston, Maine for two years before joining the U.S. Navy during World
War II, serving as a radar operator aboard the heavy cruiser USS Fall River during his three years of active duty.

After his discharge from the U.S. Navy Dave decided to pursue his
longtime interest in the sea and desire to work in research and began
corresponding with the Institution in July 1946. He was hired in August
of that year as an observer working for Val Worthington on project B-38
with Stanley Bergstrom, Fritz Fuglister and J.B. Hersey, collecting
oceanographic data at sea and working with the findings ashore. Through
the 1950s Dave, along with Mary Sears, John Stimpson, Delmar Jenkins
and others who had served in the Navy during the war met regularly at
Smith Laboratory as part of a U.S. Navy Reserve research panel. 
He later said he never returned to finish college because the projects,
travel and personal relationships in the scientific community “seemed
more interesting and pertinent.”

Dave developed his interest in photography while at WHOI and soon had
special skills in underwater photography, cameras and equipment,
working with Doc Edgerton, Tex Hoadley, Brackett Hersey and others in
what was then a field in its infancy.  On his first long cruise
aboard research vessel Atlantis,
a seven-month trip in 1947-1948 to the Mediterranean and Aegean seas,
Dave was assigned to operate a Ewing deep sea camera to take flash
photos of the sea floor. He is credited with taking the deepest
photograph of the sea floor (18,000 feet) at the time, a record that
stood for years.  The photo was later published in Life magazine. 

In 1954 Dave was appointed a research associate in underwater
photography. He conducted extensive deep sea camera operations on many
expeditions, including three cruises between 1972 and 1974 near the
Azores as part of Project FAMOUS (French-American Mid-Ocean Undersea
Study), a milestone in understanding seafloor spreading and continental

In addition to his skills in photography, Dave Owen pioneered the use
of scuba diving at the Institution as the need increased for direct,
personal observation underwater.  He served as the Institution’s
chief diver, later called the diving safety officer, from 1953 until
his retirement in 1980. As such, he was responsible for training
scientific divers, keeping diving records, and diving on many projects.

In 1959, then Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Foster
Furcolo appointed a committee to study the safety and education in the
field of scuba diving, which was becoming popular. Dave Owen was asked
to serve on that advisory committee.  His 1955 publication, A Manual for Free-Divers,
was considered by many as the Bible for scuba diving activities and was
the first instructional manual on aqua-lung type diving in the
world.  He spoke at many underwater conferences and symposiums on
both underwater photography and diving, and was the author or co-author
of 28 publications on underwater photography, diving and diving

Through the years Dave Owen worked in Geology and Geophysics and in
Marine Operations, operating and maintaining deep-sea underwater camera
systems in connection with both his own projects and other research
activities.  While diving to perform heavy underwater work in 1970
he suffered a heart attack, an experience that led to more extensive
medical exams in connection with diving and a paper, “Heart Attack at
110 Feet”, published in 1971 in Skin Diver
magazine.  After the heart attack, Dave continued to run
instructional diving programs but from the surface. He took an early
retirement and left the Institution in 1980.

Survivors include his wife, Helen Owen of Victoria, British Columbia,
Canada; two sisters-in law, JoAnn Outerbridge of Brentwood Bay, B.C.,
Canada and Margaret Owen of Washington; and three nieces. 

A memorial service was held April 22 at the Brentwood United Church in
Brentwood Bay, British Columbia. Memorial donations may be made to the
Saanich Peninsula Hospital, 2166 Mount Newton Crossroads, Saanichton,
British Columbia V8M 2B2  Canada.

David M. Owen