British Columbia

Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard charts unexplored Canadian waters

Legendary oceanographer and professor Robert Ballard is one of the finest ocean explorers in human history, and he's in Victoria, B.C. for his next expedition.

'The age of exploration is not in our history books; it's in our near-term future,' says Ballard

Robert Ballard is famous for the discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989, and the wreck of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. (Getty Images)

Legendary oceanographer and professor Robert Ballard is one of the finest ocean explorers in human history.

The National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence first began making waves when he and his team discovered the RMS Titanic lying on the ocean floor off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1985. 

Ballard is preparing to give a presentation this Sunday in conjunction with Kate Moran from Ocean Networks Canada at the Laurel Point Inn in Victoria, B.C. 

​His E/V Nautilus, one of only two dedicated ships of exploration in the world, is docked off the West Coast and will spend a month at sea charting unknown Canadian territory. 

He sat down at our Victoria studio with All Points West host Robyn Burns for a quick chat on what he hopes to accomplish.

What are you hoping to achieve with this project?

Ocean Networks Canada has two major underwater observatory systems. Venus, which is between Vancouver Island and the Mainland, and then Neptune, which goes all the way out to the plate boundary on what's called the Juan de Fuca ridge, where you have active volcanoes.

We're going to be servicing that network. You can watch it 24/7, you can send in questions and you can be a part of the expedition.

You have been one of the foremost ocean researchers in the world for decades now. How do you stay so curious and passionate about the work that you do?

I decided not to grow up. I'm 73, but I feel like a teenager. I love exploration. I've been at it for 55 years. I've done almost about 150 expeditions, and I just love discovering things. 

I'm a little kid who goes out and rolls over a log, finds a salamander and runs home to show it to everybody. Always been in my genes.

How do you tap into the youth and pass on that passion and love for exploration?

When I was a child, I wrote a letter to an oceanographic institution in California called Scripps (Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego). It was a Dear Santa Claus letter.

"Dear Scripps, I want to be an oceanographer." I'm sure I misspelled it, because I'm dyslexic. They gave me a scholarship. When I was 17, 56 years ago, I went on my first expedition.

We got caught in a storm, hit by a rogue wave, and I thought that was so cool. I was too young to be afraid. I just fell in love with adventure with a purpose, where you go out there and overcome the obstacles that you're always faced with, and then you find this secret, whether it's a shipwreck like the Titanic, or the Bismarck, or new discoveries like hydrothermal vents or black smoke.  

We're literally doing the fundamental exploration of our world's oceans. 

In exploring the ocean, is there anything at this time that concerns you? Things that you're finding? 

No, not really. We go where no one has gone before on planet earth, so in fact we don't see a footprint, because we're going where people have never been. 

The average depth of the ocean which covers 72 per cent of earth is 4,000 metres down, and it gets over 7,000 metres.

Do you realize how much of Canada lies beneath the sea? Canada has a huge amount of real estate. We have better maps of Mars than a huge part of Canada. It's really critical to know what you own, don't you think?

This is an area of total darkness, with great mountain ranges. The largest mountain ranges on earth are beneath the sea. There's more active volcanoes down there than on land. There are canyons that make the Grand Canyon look like a ditch. It's amazing real estate. 

What Canada's doing is setting up camp and being able to monitor what's going on down there, because you do have some potential hazards. The plates are colliding. Not only are they doing very critical warning systems, they're monitoring the behaviour of the earth through time.

What can people expect from your presentation this Sunday?

It's about exploration, past, present and future. The technology we have today is going to make it possible for the next generation of children to explore more of earth than all previous generations combined. The age of exploration is not in our history books; it's in our near-term future. 


To hear the full interview with Robert Ballard, listen to the audio labelled: Ocean explorer Robert Ballard voyages into uncharted Canadian territory.

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