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Diving Earth's Most Inhospitable Places—With Kids in Tow

Summer vacation for the Bardout family means attempting to break world records deep underwater.

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A 65-foot schooner, the WHY, cuts through ice near Greenland. Beginning this summer its French crew will take the ship from Greenland to Antarctica. Under the Pole is supported by Rolex, which partners with National Geographic on exploration, science, and storytelling.

This story appears in the July 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.

It started with a husband, a wife, and their dog.

In 2010 divers Ghislain Bardout and Emmanuelle Périé-Bardout took their Siberian husky, Kayak, to the North Pole to explore the ecosystems beneath the ice. The pair assembled a team of eight to shoot photos and video and monitor the group’s health. Kayak’s role was to bark if he saw polar bears.

Under the Pole—as their expedition was first named—has since grown into a worldwide quest to explore the most inhospitable parts of Earth’s oceans. In 2014 the full team swelled to 55 people for a trek to the west coast of Greenland, where they dived to world-record depths of 364 feet. “People said it wasn’t possible, but we believed it was,” says Périé-Bardout. Their trip resulted in films, a book, and plenty of academic research.

This summer they and their rotating team—now up to a hundred—are starting the third part of the project: a three-year excursion to nearly every latitude on Earth. From France they’ll travel past Greenland, through the Arctic, around Alaska, down to French Polynesia, past the tip of South America, on to Antarctica, and then up north through the Atlantic back to Europe—a nearly 50,000-mile journey. Along the way they’ll study life below a hundred feet, the dark and rarely seen depths known as the twilight zone. They’ll also test the limits of dive physiology, attempting deeper dives (breaking their previous under-ice record) and diving for longer periods—including a bid for 72 continuous hours submerged.

Bardout and Périé-Bardout have also expanded their immediate crew. They now rely on their sons, Robin and Tom, ages five and one, for an important job. “They change the ambience on board,” says Bardout. “If tensions get high, no one can explode when there’s a kid playing with Legos.”


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