Mel Fisher

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Mel Fisher
Born(1922-08-21)August 21, 1922
DiedDecember 19, 1998(1998-12-19) (aged 76)
Known forTreasure hunting
Spouse(s)Dolores "Deo" Horton (4/6/36-1/13/09
Children5 (Dirk died)

Born in Indiana and a dive shop pioneer in California, Mel Fisher (August 21, 1922 – December 19, 1998) was an American treasure hunter best known for finding the 1622 wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha. Diving became a family business: he lost his son and daughter-in-law when their boat capsized and sank in 1975.

Personal life[edit]

Fisher was an Indiana-born former chicken farmer who eventually moved to California and opened the first diving shop in the state. He attended Purdue University and was a member of The Delta Chi Fraternity. In 1953, he married Dolores (Deo) Horton who became his business partner. She was one of the first women to learn how to dive and set a women's record by staying underwater for 50 hours. Mel and Deo had five children: sons Terry, Dirk, Kim and Kane, and daughter Taffi. On July 20, 1975 Mel's oldest son Dirk, his wife Angel, and diver Rick Gage died after their boat sank due to bilge pump failure during their quest for treasure.[1] Mel struggled through decades of hard times treasure hunting in the Florida Keys with the motto Today's the Day.[2]

The Atocha[edit]

Mel found the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha[3] named after a parish in Madrid for protection.[4] He discovered the wreck July 20, 1985. The estimated $450 million cache recovered, known as "The Atocha Motherlode," included 40 tons of gold and silver; there were some 114,000 of the Spanish silver coins known as "pieces of eight", gold coins, Colombian emeralds, gold and silver artifacts, and 1000 silver ingots.[3][2] Large as it was, this was only roughly half of the treasure that went down with the Atocha. The wealthiest part of the ship, the sterncastle, is yet to be found.[citation needed] Still missing are 300 silver bars and 8 bronze cannons, among other things.

The site of the wreckage of the Atocha, called "The Bank of Spain" (a sandy area 22 feet deep and within 200 yards of the anchor location),[5] is still being worked on and treasures are slowly being recovered. The emeralds from the Atocha are some of the finest emeralds in the world. They come from the Muzo Mine in Colombia. The emeralds of Muzo are renowned for their color and are the world standard by which all emeralds are judged.[citation needed] The Supreme Court of the United States confirmed Fisher's ownership to the recovered treasure and transferred ownership of 75% of the appraised value of all material recovered.[6]

Other finds[edit]

Fisher's company, Salvors Inc., found remains of several shipwrecks in Florida waters, including the Atocha's sister galleon the Santa Margarita, lost in the same year, and the remains of a slave ship known as the Henrietta Marie, lost in 1700.


Mel Fisher hired Duncan Matthewson as chief archaeologist during the Atocha period, and Salvors, Inc. became experts in recovery and conservation of underwater artifacts, remaining active as of 2009. Fisher blended private and public interests when it came to underwater cultural resources. Concern in the U.S., and Florida specifically, for protection of submerged archaeological sites contributed to the 2001 adoption of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

  • A film about him, Dreams of Gold: The Mel Fisher Story was released in 1986, starring Cliff Robertson and Loretta Swit.[7]
  • In the novel Supernatural: Bone Key based on the American TV series Supernatural, protagonist Dean Winchester is infused with all of the ghosts on Key West to fight a vengeance spirit called the Last Calusa. Mel Fisher is one of the spirits infused into Dean who relives Mel's burning desire to find the shipwreck. During the battle, Dean is able to use the energy he gets from Mel Fisher and the other ghosts to his advantage and destroy the Last Calusa once and for all.
  • Mentioned in the Flight Simulator X Mission (Keys Kayakers)
  • Featured in Travel channels "Expedition Unknown" Season 3 Episode 17

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 3 Drown on Mission to Salvage $100 ‐Million in Sunken Treasure. JULY 21, 1975 (Retrieved on May 22, 2017)
  2. ^ a b c "MEL'S STORY". Archived from the original on 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2009-09-15.
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ "1622 Fleet ( Archived 2007-04-19 at the Wayback Machine)". Retrieved 2009-09-15.
  5. ^ ", "The Bank of Spain"". Archived from the original on 2008-05-11. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
  6. ^ "FLORIDA DEPT. OF STATE v. TREASURE SALVORS, INC., (1982)". United States Supreme Court. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  7. ^ New York Magazine, November 17, 1986 - Page 84 Dreams of Gold: The Mel Fisher Story, (November 15; 9 to 11 PM; CBS)

External links[edit]