How could a cat scuba dive?

Scuba Cat Wet Suit: Hawkeye Goes Under
Hawkeye contemplates the rough seas of her swimming pool.
Hawkeye contemplates the rough seas of her swimming pool.
Photo Courtesy of Gene Alba

Once Hawkeye was comfortable swimming in the pool, Alba set about designing and building her scuba system. The main challenge in designing the wet suit was making something that didn't restrict Hawkeye's body too much. Wet suits are typically made of neoprene, a synthetic rubber that helps insulate divers from cold water. The problem with neoprene is that it's meant to fit tight against the body, which would've been too restrictive for Hawkeye. It took a couple of tries and a switch to nylon before Alba was able to make a suit that was both safe and comfortable for Hawkeye.

The other challenge was finding the correct weight for the suit and the helmet. Alba accomplished this in the same way he made Mutley's system -- he sewed built-in pockets to hold lead weights. Hawkeye's helmet, or mask, was custom made from glass and required 12 to 14 pounds of lead weights to keep it upright and stable. Once the bubble was complete and weighted, it was glued to the neck of Hawkeye's wet suit.

Gene helps Hawkeye perform a trick called "float in pool."
Photo Courtesy of Gene Alba

Another issue Alba faced was sealing the helmet tight to the cat's wet suit to keep water from leaking in. Even though the bubble is glued to the suit, Alba learned with Mutley that a watertight seal wasn't really possible -- it would be too tight around his pet's neck. To solve this problem, he devised a vacuum system that removes any water that leaks into the lower part of the mask. In order to keep Hawkeye in for longer dives, Alba fashioned a 12-foot air tube to run from his own oxygen tank into Hawkeye's mask at about 25 pounds per square inch (PSI). This air is pumped in while the vacuum sucks air and water out, which creates a constant flow of breathable air at the correct pressure to keep Hawkeye submerged, safe and dry in the face.

Both Mutley and Hawkeye have their own small oxygen tanks, but these mainly serve as backup devices. Each tank provides about five to eight minutes of air and allows the adventurous pets to be completely self-contained, solo scuba divers. The price tag for Hawkeye's system was roughly $20,000 -- a bargain compared to Mutley's $40,000 prototype.

On the next page, we'll dive into Hawkeye's scuba experience.

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