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A brush with death underwater leads a diver to plumb her own depths

Courtesy of Katie Morgan

It started out like any other underwater volunteer shift — scattering food for the salmon and perch, then diving down deeper to hand feed the rockfish, sturgeon and other species who make their home in the 400,000-gallon tank. 



This was a gig that Katie Morgan had long coveted — doing the afternoon feeding shows in the Seattle Aquarium’s underwater dome. Morgan is a longtime scuba diver who has swum in watery landscapes all over the world. 

Katie Morgan talks to a sea lion like a dog.



But this aquarium shift — feeding the fish, interacting with schoolkids over an intercom — started to veer off from the routine. 


First, there was her buoyancy. Morgan would typically regulate that by working a small control with her left hand. But this day, she couldn’t seem to get it right. 


“I kept floating up, and then I’d let some air out, and I’d sink too fast,” she says. “I just couldn’t figure out why I couldn't get my buoyancy down.” 


She finished the dive, helped wipe down the 105 windows, and ascended the ladder out of the tank. It was a lot harder than it was supposed to be. 


“I was having such a hard time getting up the ladder," she says. "I was weak.”


Next came the stairs, where Morgan found herself falling into the railing. Finally she made her way to the bathroom. 


“The suit that I was wearing felt like it was made of lead, and I just wanted to sit down in the middle of the floor," she says. "And that’s when I knew I needed help, because I would never sit down in the middle of a public restroom! So that’s when I called for help.” 


That day’s dive would prove to be a turning point. Katie Morgan, who works in corporate sponsorships at KNKX, joined host Gabriel Spitzer in the studio to explain what happened next. Listen above to hear her story. 


Video of one of Katie Morgan's dives


Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.