In 2013, Mr. Dalio was exploring the deep Pacific with scientists from Yale University and the American Museum of Natural History when, in pitch darkness, a camera was flashed. The surrounding creatures proceeded to light up in bioluminescent waves. “It was like a fireworks display,” Mr. Dalio recalled. “Everything was responding. It was unbelievable.”
Vincent Pieribone accompanied Mr. Dalio on that voyage. He is an author of “Aglow in the Dark: The Revolutionary Science of Biofluorescence” and a neuroscientist at the Yale School of Medicine who uses the chemistry of ocean biofluorescence to study human nerve impulses. Mr. Dalio talked him into serving as vice chairman of OceanX, an undertaking of Dalio Philanthropies to explore the ocean. As the organization’s chief scientist, Dr. Pieribone helped rig the new ship for science investigations and directed much of its exploratory planning.
“I walked on the boat and was literally in tears because of all these things we were able to do,” he said recently. “It’s like something out of a Bond movie.”
Mr. Dalio is one of a growing number of billionaire philanthropists seeking to reinvent themselves as patrons of social progress through science research. According to Forbes, he has an estimated net worth of $16.9 billion, making him one of the world’s richest individuals. His firm, Bridgewater Associates, is regularly described as the world’s largest hedge fund.
Mr. Dalio said his ocean journey had begun while he was growing up on Long Island as the only son of a professional jazz musician — his father — and a stay-at-home mother. On television, he loved watching the sea adventures of Jacques Cousteau, the French oceanographer. Then, in his early 20s, Mr. Dalio learned how to scuba dive and, ever since, has been going deeper.
A turning point came in 2011 as he deepened his relationship with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The complex of shingled houses and brick laboratories is famous for devising Alvin, a submersible that was the first to illuminate the Titanic and to carry scientists down to the hot springs of the global seabed. The dark ecosystems teem with crabs, shrimp and tube worms.
Mr. Dalio was thinking of buying the Alucia when a team of Woods Hole experts used the vessel and an undersea robot to find the shattered remains of Air France Flight 447, which in 2009 had vanished over the South Atlantic with 228 passengers. Other search teams had failed, and Mr. Dalio saw the 2011 success as an indication of the field’s exploratory promise.