We lost one of our great ocean champions this week. Captain Don Walsh passed away on November 12, 2023 at the age of 92. Don Walsh, Ph.D., was an oceanographer, explorer, and marine policy expert. He travelled the world for more than five decades conducting research in, on, and around the oceans. Captain Walsh and Jacques Piccard were aboard the US Navy’s bathyscaphe Trieste on January 23, 1960, when it made a record maximum descent into the Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the oceans. In 2012, he was part of the team that oversaw the Deepsea Challenger mission’s dive, during which James Cameron dived alone to the bottom of the Challenger Deep. Over the course of his distinguished career, Captain Walsh received numerous awards. This year, he received the Admiral of the Navy George Dewey Award from the Naval Order of the United States. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the National Maritime Historical Society in 2021.
Walsh has been involved in ocean science, engineering, and marine policy for over fifty years. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1954, he was commissioned as an officer in the United States Navy. By the time he retired, he had attained the rank of captain. He was a submarine commander for fifteen years and spent fifteen years at sea, mostly in submarines. He also assisted the US Navy with ocean-related research and development.
Walsh later lived in Sitkum, Oregon, with his wife, Joan, on a ranch he purchased in 1992. Beginning in 1976, he ran a marine consulting firm, and by 2010, he was leading about five deep-sea expeditions per year. He remained a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Ocean Elders, and he taught at Oregon State University.
Walsh’s son Kelly dived to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in June 2020, becoming the twelfth person to do so.