Photos taken by Jan Wilder Bill
A modest warehouse off a beaten path in Florida shelters billions of dollars worth of guts and glory. It’s a rare moment in history when a person proves the impossible but CEO, Senior ORCA Scientist, Dr. Edie Widder, can show you a living sea monster.
According to sailor’s superstitions, two fifty-foot-long sea monsters could be summoned by name. They would rise out from the depths, wrap their eight arms and two tentacles around a ship, and drag it to the ocean’s floor. The wake created by the creatures’ stirred into a whirlpool that drown any remaining sailors. Over time, the world became more populated, ships more common, and yet giant squids were never seen —
— until Dr. Widder invented a camera for taking photos 1000s of feet underwater. She can even escort you deep into the ocean in her submersible glass pods. She proved the giant squids in Viking sagas and Scandinavian stories were real.
Dr. Edith Widder founded the Ocean Research & Conservation Association intended to save the marine ecosystem from threats. With deep dive accolades and a specialization in bioluminescent fish, she is famous for surviving hundreds of submersible dives.
I was invited to an unveiling of a line of submersibles and awed to meet the person responsible for world-changing inventions. How does a person become so huge?
Question: Dr. Widder, your marine biology career began with piloting Atmospheric Diving Systems and deep dives in Wasp diving suits. Did you intend to outperform others or did you simply follow your passion and let whatever came of it unfold?
Answer: My first dive in the Wasp changed the course of my career. When I turned out the lights I knew I would see bioluminescence – animals making light – but I was completely unprepared for the astonishing number of light emitters I saw. I wanted to understand more about the phenomenon and what part it played in the open ocean, which is the largest and least explored ecosystem on the planet.
Question: The marine biology field is competitive with scientists vying to make discoveries. What characteristics did you utilize in becoming a leader in such a controversial field?
Answer: Exploring requires optimism and persistence. I have a motto pinned to my wall that has been a guiding principle for me: Success in life depends on how well you handle Plan B. Anyone can handle Plan A.
Question: You established the non-profit organization, ORCA, intended to save marine life and protect our oceans. Was this a situation where you gave up everything to be a pioneer or did you have support before embarking into such a challenging study?
Answer: When I started the Ocean Research & Conservation Association in 2005 it was a very scary undertaking. Up until then I had enjoyed this amazing academic career using submersibles to explore the ocean in new ways. I thought I was giving up that life in order to give back to the ocean. As things turned out I have been able to keep doing the exploration research while also doing the ocean conservation work that ORCA is focused on. This has only been possible because of the amazing team of people that make up TeamORCA.
Question: The images you’ve captured of newly discovered sea-life appeared on postage stamps. Did you seek out opportunities to expand your market or did you stay focused on your ORCA tasks and they found you?
Answer: I’ve been very focused on ORCA. The post office contacted me to ask if I had any images that might be appropriate for a series of 10 new stamps they wanted to release on bioluminescence. I was very honored that the ended up using 7 of my images.
Question: You were the chief scientist to capture images of the Humboldt squid off Chile, and the Architeuthis squid in U.S. waters. Once you reached your goal to show what lives in the deep, did you immediately get inspired to make another world-change?
Answer: I frequently get asked “What’s next?” and one thing I’ve been discussing with a couple of different groups is possibly mounting an expedition to film the Colossal Squid, which is not quite as long as the giant squid, but it’s much heavier and has the added allure for me that it’s bioluminescent.
Question: You have been on Ted Talk, BBC, PBS, the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, received the MacArthur Fellowship, and participated in the Ted Mission Blue Voyage in the Galapagos Islands. As a leader in your field, do you consider recognition to be a reward for your endeavors or do you appreciate notoriety as a means for promoting your ORCA mission?
Answer: The international attention garnered from filming the giant squid has provided a means to communicate important information to a much wider audience about what it means to live on an ocean planet and what we need to be doing to protect our life support systems.
Dr. Edie Widder, it was an honor to meet you in person. Your scientific contributions to everyone on the planet today, and all who will come after us, don’t even hint at your humility and kindness. You are an example of how following your passion can serve others.
Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts on what it takes to become a world leader.
You can find Dr. Edie Widder at http://www.teamorca.org.