Taylor, Valerie (1935—)
Taylor, Valerie (1935—)
Australian scuba diver and filmmaker. Born Valerie May Hughes in 1935 in Sydney, Australia; married Ron Taylor (an underwater filmmaker and photographer).
Valerie Taylor was born in 1935 and grew up near the water in Sydney, Australia. She first began swimming as therapy after a bout of poliomyelitis; she also started snorkeling and spearfishing at an early age. Taylor won the Australian women's scuba title in 1963 and the Australian Women's Spearfishing Open championship three times. She and her husband Ron Taylor gave up spearfishing for environmental reasons around 1968 and began to concentrate on underwater photography. Valerie was often photographed underwater by Ron, playing with sea animals.
The Taylors at first had difficulty attracting interest in their sea films, but signed an important contract in 1969 with Belgium University at Liege for six months of a scientific expedition to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Peter Gimbel later hired them to film his search for the great white shark, Blue Water—White Death. While in the Indian Ocean on this expedition, the Taylors had some hair-raising experiences. Once their shark cage was nearly lost when cables and tethers became entangled in shark-infested waters. Taylor was thankful for the quick thinking of the ship's sound man, who, she told Hillary Hauser, "had the captain maneuver the [ship] into position downstream and pick us up. Without his quick presence of mind we would probably still be going, drifting alone, tied to a whale 100 miles off the African Coast in the Indian Ocean."
Taylor is known for her ability to make herself part of the marine animal world. She will pet moray eels, feed barracudas, and play with octopi. Said Taylor: "I figure if I'm nice to them, they will be nice to me." A number of her encounters with sea creatures have been photographed or filmed. In Blue Water—White Death she is actually filmed while stroking the belly of the great white from her cage.
As a result of her skill and daring, Valerie has had starring roles in U.S. and foreign television series. In Australia, she was a guest star on the "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo" show, writing the episode herself. "Taylor's Innerspace," a television series shown in the U.S. and Australia, starred the Taylors. In 1974, they also filmed all the live shark segments for the box-office hit Jaws, director Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the Peter Benchley novel, which concerns an East Coast beach town terrorized by a shark with a taste for human flesh.
"I'm not as strong as a man," said Taylor, "which probably makes me not such a good diver. Technically, I'm hopeless, but I seen to have some sort of sixth sense about fish and other animals. I seem to know if I can approach a shark or if I should be out of the water…. Some people think I'm not afraid. Sometimes I'm awfully afraid, but I have a tremendous curiosity."
Hauser, Hillary. Women in Sports: Scuba Diving. NY: Harvey House, 1976.
Oxford Companion to Australian Sport. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Sally A. Myers , Ph.D., freelance writer-editor