Meet South Korean “Sea Women” And Their Daring Trade

For how long can you hold your breath under water? Is it 30 seconds, 45 seconds or 1 minute? It may surprise you that people, who you may consider weaker than yourself due to their advanced age can do far better than you. To make matters more interesting, these individuals are women.

Who are they? They are referred to as Haenyo. Call them mermaids and you will not be far from the truth. Why on earth would anybody call them mermaids? You may not believe it, but they are as comfortable in the ocean beds as just any mermaid would be.


These women can dive to the depth of the Korean sea for as deep as 65 feet. They can also remain at this level for extended period of time. Yes, any oxygen tank wearing diver can also do that, but you may be surprised that these women do not even use oxygen tank. Yes, they dive into the depth of the cold water of the South Korean sea without using oxygen tank.

Mijoo Kim, the New York-based photographer that did a documentary about the Haenyo could not help declaring that “being a Haenyo is not meant to be for the weak”

Will it surprise you to learn that these women are up to 70 years old?  Yes, they are the traditional Haenyo and they are practicing an ancient tradition of the Koreans, which involves diving to the depth of the sea to collect squids, sea cucumbers, urchins and sea abalones from the sea bed. In the course of collecting these items, these 70-year-old women can hold their breath for as long as 2 minutes.

It is however saddening to realize that these women are the last of their generation. By the time they all die, it may mark the end of the Haenyo generation in South Korea. This is because the younger women do not seem to be interested in joining up with the Haenyo. They seem to be more interested in traveling to the cities in search of education and leaving these old women to their beloved tradition.