A Florida professor emerged Friday from spending 100 days living underwater, shattering the previous record of 73 days.
Joseph Dituri rose slowly from his temporary home in an ocean lagoon in Key Largo, Florida. He waved to a cheering crowd as he came up wearing a wet suit and goggles.
“What are you guys all doing here?” he joked as he floated on the surface before declaring, “We did it!”
Dituri, a biomedical engineering professor at the University of South Florida, broke the world record for the most days a human has lived underwater. The previous record of 73 days was set in 2014 by two Tennessee professors.
Dituri, 55, spoke with USA TODAY a couple hours after he resurfaced to share his initial findings about how underwater life affects the human body, what he missed the most about living on land and what he’ll miss about his time underwater.
Dituri’s main purpose while living underwater was not to break records. He wanted to study how the human body responds to long-term exposure to extreme pressure and whether living in hyperbaric pressure can slow the aging process. (He’s passionate about biohacking and plans to live to be 110 years old.)
Dituri underwent a battery of psychological and medical tests before he started living in a 100-square-foot special habitat 25 feet below the surface. A medical team continued running tests on him while he was underwater and will continue to do so in the coming weeks. They’re monitoring brain waves, heart rate, blood pressure, ear pressure, urine, oxygen saturation and muscle measurements, among others.
Since living underwater for 100 days, Dituri has:
- Shrunk in height by half an inch
- Gotten 60-66 percent rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep compared to 40 percent prior
- Seen his cholesterol drop by 72 points
- Seen his inflammation (which causes disease) go down by 30 percent
Dituri attributes the height loss to living in compression. On the flip side, astronauts get taller in space.
He said he doesn’t know yet whether he’ll gain that height back living on the surface again.
“That’s part of experimentation, right?” he said. “That’s part of science. That’s the cool part.”
As for his cholesterol, he said his diet did not change underwater and was kept the same on purpose so that any difference in his biochemistry would be the result of the altered living conditions.
Although Dituri was living under water for 100 days, he wasn’t bereft of human contact. During that time, he got visits from 60 different people, including his mother, his brother, 26 schoolchildren interested in science, and a handful of scientists.
Though he got visits, his life under the sea could be isolating and made him miss regular access to human contact, particularly with his girlfriend and three daughters.
“We’re creatures that are tactile in nature. Boy, there’s none of that down there,” he said. “I got to the point where I was like, ‘OK, I’m gonna need a hug.’ And when I got up (to the surface), I met every marker for every hug that I wanted. I got all the high-fives that I wanted and all the handshakes.”
While he most missed regular human contact underwater, Dituri knows it’s sea life that he’ll miss the most back on dry land.
While living underwater, he said he made friends with a lobster he named Fred. He got to watch Fred shed his exoskeleton multiple times, grow larger and eventually start his own family.
He also got to see a seahorse for the first time in his life, swim with a manatee and witness “the whole circle of life.”
“From plankton getting eaten by worms to getting eaten by little fish to getting eaten by big fish … when you’re immersed you see the entire thing,” he said.
Dituri said it’ll take about six months for him and his team to study all the data and observations from 100 days under water. They’ll present their findings at the World Extreme Medical Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland in November.
Dituri documented some of his day-to-day life underwater on Instagram.
He stayed in shape by doing 100 pushups and sit-ups a day, in addition to yoga. He had a very regimented diet, eating three eggs in the morning, a hearty salad for lunch and meat and vegetables for dinner. He didn’t drink alcohol or eat desserts.
Dituri joked that the most important item he had on board might have been his coffeemaker. He also had a microwave but couldn’t do cooking beyond that because of the pressurized conditions.
“To explore anything new always results in personal and professional discoveries,” Dituri said. “This experience has changed me in important ways, and my greatest hope is that I have inspired a new generation of explorers and researchers to push past all boundaries.”