DAN Member Profile: Sally Bauer

Headshot of DAN member Sally Bauer

Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio
Years diving: 52
Favorite destination: Papua New Guinea for the spectacular, pristine diving, and Grand Cayman, because the reef is so accessible
Why I’m a DAN member: Why would I not be a DAN member? Every diver should be a DAN member for the great magazine, interesting articles and insurance protection on any dive trip. Having DAN membership and insurance should be a requirement to go on any dive boat.

Dr. Sally Bauer, an accomplished diver, aquarist, marine biologist, dive historian and physician, almost did not survive her first water encounter. When Bauer was 5 years old, she and her 7-year-old brother decided to explore the strip mines in their rural Ohio backyard. The two saw a mattress floating on top of the water in the mine and with the wisdom of children decided it would make a great boat. They hopped aboard, pushed off and quickly ended up in the water. Bauer, who could not swim, credits her brother for saving her life that day as he towed her back to shore. She took swim lessons the following summer.

The curiosity and adventurous spirit of that little girl never left; without it, Bauer surely would not have accomplished all that she has thus far in her lifetime. Her adventures in, on and under the water continue to this day.

Dr. Bauer looks at an x-ray image

She began diving after meeting Dr. Joe Bauer, an avid diver who later became her husband. To escape the stress of her work as an emergency room physician in Ohio, they would go on dive vacations. They traveled around the world, but a favorite dive destination was the Florida Keys. The Bauers established the Saltwater Aquarium Society in Ohio, became experts on angelfish spawning, published 30 years of underwater research and opened the History of Diving Museum, to name a few of their accomplishments.

The couple wanted to have part of the underwater world with them when they returned to Ohio after a dive vacation, so the Bauers became aquarists. What began as a hobby quickly became much more. At one point the couple had 40 saltwater aquariums in their home. One room was dedicated to fish and fish rearing. For four years Bauer was the editor and publisher of the Saltwater Aquarium Society’s magazine, which focused on the art of keeping fish. She is the first person to raise clownfish and peppermint shrimp in an aquarium. The technique Bauer developed in the 1970s is still used today.

They were especially interested in fish spawning and published work on the reproductive behavior of angelfish. “I know a lot about sex underwater,” Bauer explained.

Sally Bauer goes diving

Starting with a single helmet, the Bauers began collecting dive artifacts. They were at an antique shop that Bauer described as “more like a junk store” in Miami when they spotted the helmet. “We thought it would be a nice conversation piece for our living room,” she said. With that one purchase they caught “an incurable disease: the diving collecting bug,” and their collection quickly grew. She explained that internet sites such as eBay have changed the game now and made collecting less exciting for people like her who enjoy the hunt.

Every piece the Bauers collected has a memory associated with it. The couple became experts on hard-hat diving due to the amount of historical research they did with each item purchased. Bauer, who has worn underwater every helmet in the collection, says, “It’s a real buzz to wear that old gear.” In 1980 they wrote a chapter about dive helmets in The Pictorial History of Diving. The chapter piqued the interest of other dive historians, and the Historical Diving Society was founded as a result.

History of Diving Museum founders Sally and Joe Bauer present at an awards dinner in 2006.
History of Diving Museum founders Sally and Joe Bauer present at an awards dinner in 2006.

Eventually, they started to consider what to do with their unique, historical collection. They always planned to retire in the Florida Keys, so after finding the perfect site for a museum, they opened the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada, Florida, in 2005.

Bauer submerges wearing an Aqua Bell helmet from the 1970s.
Bauer submerges wearing an Aqua Bell helmet from the 1970s.

The list of Bauer’s accomplishments in the dive community is impressive. She was the first woman to dive in the British Royal Navy training yard in Portsmouth, England. She was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2011 and has served as a trustee since 2014. In November the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences will present Bauer with its prestigious NOGI award, which has been likened to the Oscars of the ocean world. Despite her impressive history of accomplishments, Bauer remains humble. She is honored to be recognized among communities that include people such as Sylvia Earle and the late Eugenie Clark. “They make history, I just tell it,” Bauer said. She had to admit, however, that she tells it well, and she has many more stories to tell as she continues to expand the museum.

The nonprofit History of Diving Museum is more than just a collection of interesting artifacts; it tells a story that began 5,000 years ago and continues today as scuba diving technology advances, she explained. The museum offers events and lecture series throughout the year and currently has a traveling exhibit focused on technical diving.

When visiting the Florida Keys, heed Bauer’s advice: “Don’t drive by, dive in. Dive into history.” While there, ask her for the story about any piece in the collection. The adventurous spirit of the little girl who barely survived her fist swim will be readily apparent when she regales you with stories of the sea and the history it contains.

© Alert Diver — Q4 2018