story by Rufus Kimura
photos by Dana Edmunds
I'm sitting on a boat off the Wai‘anae Coast with a bright yellow, 70-pound closed-circuit rebreather strapped to my back, and Richard Pyle and I are about to dive to 400 feet. It’ll be dark down there, I know. Scattered veins of sunlight reassure only to 300 feet—after that the water gets cold and gloomy, and thoughts of big fish make your spine tingle.
Pyle and I are looking for a little fish, a black-and-white prognathid about the size of the palm of one’s hand. Pyle discovered the first—and so far only known—prognathid a few years ago on a dive he made off the Big Island to 450 feet. That fish he donated to the Waikiki Aquarium, where it now lives. But since the little prognathid has been kept alive, a specimen is still needed—a representative of the species preserved for science and generations to come. Today Pyle is looking for a prognathid for his pickle jar—and I’m along for the adventure.
Richard Pyle is the Indiana Jones of ichthyology. He has discovered more than 100 new species of fish, four of which carry his surname. A scientist with the Bishop Museum, Pyle has mounted expeditions the world over in previously unexplored deep water—off Satawal, Fiji, Samoa, Nicaragua and on and on—with his dive partners John Earle and Brian Greene. On one particularly memorable dive in Papua New Guinea, he was discovering new species at a rate of seven per hour.
Pyle is literally exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and boldlygoing where no man has gone before. What allows for all of this is mixed-gas diving. A Jacques Cousteau for high-tech times, Pyle is an icon in the world of sci-fi scuba. Through a lot of personal trial and error, he has been an integral part of developing a better understanding of the physiology of deep diving. With the aid of closed-circuit rebreathers, he has gone to nearly 500 feet—for divers, a mind-blowing depth.
Innovator, academic, adventurer: Indiana Jones, no kidding.