You may be the king of dark sliding and bull-flipping on the neighborhood half pipe or a weekend warrior queen on the waves, but for some, extreme is a 9 to 5 reality. From storm chasing to venom milking, if you think you’re extreme, these five occupations may make you rethink your definition of “living on the edge.”
Popularized by the Discovery Channel’s series Storm Chasers, the job actually falls under the broader, more accurate category of “Atmospheric and Space Scientist.” A few job requirements for these radical scientists include investigating atmospheric phenomena, interpreting meteorological data and developing equipment for collecting data. That’s just the backend bit; the exciting stuff involves tracking storms, traveling around in a van with a few other thrill-seeking scientists to find the storms at their source and then getting into the thick of their atmospheric insanity.
It most likely goes without saying that this job’s not for the faint of heart. In 2013, veteran storm chaser Tim Samaras, who previously hosted the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chaser series, along with his son Paul, died pursuing a massive Oklahoma tornado. Oklahoma patrollers heard them screaming over the radio scanner moments before the 165 mph tornado slammed into their vehicle, sucking Paul Samaras and colleague Paul Young out of the car. Tim Samaras was later found in the annihilated truck, still strapped in, but unfortunately not alive.
These are the guys in the movies who make the impossible seem totally probable and somehow survivable. Yet, this is one of the most dangerous professions out there. Most Hollywood actors and actresses have stunt doubles doing the crazy stuff, but Jackie Chan is known for performing almost all of his own stunts. In one 1985 flick, Chan is filmed in a mall chase scene leaping off a top floor to a pole and sliding down all while wrapped in Christmas lights, before finally crashing through a glass ceiling. The actor suffered first and second degree burns.
In 1977, stuntman Rick Sylvester almost didn’t make it out alive of his ski jump stunt for the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. After a downhill, high-speed chase, Sylvester took an insane leap; however, his parachute failed to engage due to a malfunction with one of his skis. Somehow Sylvester survived the crash, much to the surprise—and relief—of the cast and crew.
Replace udders with fangs and cows with snakes, and you pretty much get the idea of what this job entails. Snake milkers expertly remove venom from the fangs of a variety of snake species in order to create the anti-venom that saves people and pets from deadly bites. The procedures involves holding the snakes head and then encouraging it to bite into a latex “skin” over a container that collects the venom as it’s injected. A secondary assistant will hold the snake’s mouth open while a teammate places electrode stimulation on the snake’s head, forcing the venom glands to react.
Zoological institutes, research centers and hospitals all need venom milkers in order to keep anti-venom stocked for both study and life-saving applications; however, it does require a specialized degree in Herpetology (study of reptiles and amphibians) and means doing the tango with some of the most world’s most poisonous creatures. The well-known showman and milker Bill Haast (and owner of the Miami Serpentarium) survived around 172 snake bites, and in the process of his 60+ year career “only” lost his right index finger. Professional handlers Jamie Coots and George Hensley weren’t so lucky. Although, combined, they received about 409 bites before finally succumbing to one.
Avalanches, altitude, sub-freezing temperatures and extreme weather are just a few of the reasons Everest is one of the most deadly ventures on the planet. The world’s tallest peak has been climbed by about 4,000 people since Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reached the summit in 1953, and more than 250 people have died in the process. Mount Everest Guide Norbu Sherpa was interviewed by the New York Times about his work as a guide: “Twenty years is the maximum time you can work in the high mountains. The work is very tough; it is only meant for the young.”
The guides are not only responsible for their safety, but the safety of those they are leading, as well as fixing gear and climbing ladders, guiding climbers through high altitude and cooking at base camps. Based on one annual fatality chart by Outside Online, Everest Guides had the highest mortality rate of any profession: 4,053 per 100,000 full-time equivalents. As a comparison, the death rate for miners was 25 per 100,000.
Unlike the leisurely type of fishing done on a Sunday afternoon, commercial fishing has long topped the charts as the most dangerous job on the planet. Think Perfect Storm with George Clooney. If you’ve ever seen Discovery’s Channel’s “Deadliest Catch,” you’ve had a bit of an inside look at what commercial fishermen are up against. The unpredictability of the ocean, malfunctioning equipment and even the risk of the catch itself (imagine wrangling a swordfish weighing over 800 pounds) are just a few reason why commercial fishing is one of the most extreme professions out there. Alaska’s commercial fishing is so deadly, the government has enacted a series of targeted regulations aimed at increasing safety.