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Chris Valdes

Chris Valdes

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The saying “all good things must come to an end” is a cliché I do not want to use, but it is the only saying that will give my DEEPEND Teacher at Sea experience any justice. This amazing journey has shown me things I have never seen or experienced before.  Many things that I discovered on this trip could no way have been taught in a classroom by a lecturer.  The first-hand accounts I have discovered produced a new found passion for the deep sea.  I plan on building on the things I have learned and I plan on sharing them with my family, friends, and my COAST students at Cutler Bay Middle School. 

I want to thank Dr. Sutton, Dr. Judkins, Dr. Moore, and Dr. Cook for allowing me to participate on this incredible journey, and for keeping me laughing throughout the trip!  Thank you to my lab partner Mike and all the scientist on board the Point Sur that have helped me learn the lab routine.  You all truly made me feel like a part of the team from the start. 

I want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Martinez, Mr. Bas, Mr. Callahan, Mrs. Mills, Ms. Carnall, Mr. Squirrell and my brother Jason for taking great care of my fish tanks, getting my classroom ready for the excited students Monday morning, and for getting things ready for an exciting school year!  I want to thank my principal, Mr. Pfeiffer, for allowing me to continue my education and participate as the DEEPEND Teacher at Sea.

My COASTIES, we have so much to talk about when I return!  I have plenty of stories and pictures to share that I am sure you all will also grow a new found passion for the deep sea just as I have.

I want to give a special thanks to my family, especially my daughter who was sad to see me leave, but understood how important this trip was.  I love you very much!

This trip has been everything I could have imagined!  Thank you for allowing me to share my experiences with you.  I hope you had as great of a time reading my blogs, as I had creating them.


Signing off,


Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea


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With only a couple days left in the trip, I am still amazed by the different creatures we continue to examine.  Some are big and some are small; but all are unique.  This trip has opened my eyes to deep sea organisms and the adaptations they have evolved in order to survive in such a harsh environment.  

Some animals use bio-luminescent photophores that give off a fantastic light show.  Some animals are very scary looking with gigantic teeth and over sized mouths.  Many have very large eyes that are able to take in the faintness of light in the ocean’s depths.  Some animals are colored red because this color is almost invisible in deep dark waters, so these animals use it to their stealthy advantage.  Some creatures use parts of the body as a lure to attract its prey and others swim around until they find something to eat. Some of these creatures have very long tentacles and others are missing some of the traditional fins that are present on their shallow water counterparts.  

These animals have really adapted well to live so far below the surface. These past two weeks I have grown an appreciation and fascination with the deep sea!

Since tomorrow is our last day at sea, I wanted to share some pictures of the creatures I have been able to examine while aboard the Point Sur.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did discovering them!



Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea





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Bio-acoustics is a major component to the DEEPEND research.  Whereas the MOCNESS net collects physical organisms, the bio-acoustical team collect sound samples.  They are then able to use that data and transform the auditory world in to a visual one. 

 “It’s like a fish finder on steroids”, explains Ben from Florida International University, as he describes the system.  He is able to use the data to determine not only biomass, but he is able to identify different species while creating taxonomic data from sound. He is able to send different vertical sound frequencies and pulse lengths through the water to identify individual fish and crustaceans. He is also able to use target areas of interests to get multiple reads in order to create a well-documented profile of the target.  Ben is also able to record migration patterns of different organisms and is hoping to determine why certain patterns exist.

In the early hours of the morning, before the sun has started to rise, a mass migration of pelagic organisms begins its descent to the mesopelagic zone. The cycle reverses itself in the evening, as many crustaceans and fish species migrate back towards the surface to feed through the night. Using multiple frequency scientific echosounders (sonars), scientists can discriminate between taxonomic groups using a technique known as decibel differencing. This is made possible by the unique “acoustic fingerprint,” or echo that each group of organism produces when pinged at different frequencies. In the figure below you can see these taxonomic groups highlighted in different colors, and their corresponding migration pattern recorded over a 24hr period in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.


Although the focus of the trip is to study the deep scattering layer and the diel migration patterns of the organisms that form it, chance sightings of larger fish can occur. In this echogram a school of larger animals were observed swimming through an area of high biomass (brighter color = higher concentration of organisms), which could indicate foraging! (Pictured below)






Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea

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The CTD Rosette is one of the major pieces of lab equipment that we have on aboard the Point Sur. The CTD Rosette measures the water’s conductivity, temperature, and density.  Additional sensors have been added that will also record oxygen, florescence, and pH levels.  The CTD travels as deep as 1,500m, but will take different readings at the preset depths needed by the scientists.  When the CTD reaches that specific depth, one of the grey chambers (niskin bottles) will open, fill and close with water from that depth in the water column.

Shaojie and I getting the CTD ready to drop in to the Gulf.


Lindsay and Shaojie watching the CTD drop to 1,500m.


A thumbs up for success. 


Lindsay, from NOVA Southeastern University, is interested in the filtered microbes that are found in the water.  These microbes are used by the anglerfish to “light up” their lure through bioluminescent.  She would like to draw the connection between where and how the anglerfish acquire the bacteria in the water, since the anglerfish is not born with it.

Lindsay in the lab.



Shaojie, from University of South Florida College of Marine Science, uses the CTD for other readings.  He is interested in the chlorophyll levels that are only found in the top 2 levels of the targeted depth.   He is using the data to help Travis get an idea of the amount of phytoplankton in the water.  

Shaojie in the lab.





To demonstrate the crushing pressure of the depths below the surface, we tied a bag of Styrofoam cups the CTD before it was deployed to 1,500m.  At that depth the weight of the water that is above the CTD is so heavy that is causes pressure changes.  The pressure shrunk our Styrofoam cups and turned them into “mini-cups”.  We all took the time to create souvenirs for our friends and family.  I think it is a really cool souvenir from a place so deep in the ocean!

Cups before they were lowered to the depths below.



Look how much they shrunk!

On each side is a cup that was not lowered into the Gulf.



Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea


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Life aboard the Point Sur has been welcomed as well as an open challenge.  Before coming aboard, I really didn’t know what to expect.  The night before leaving Miami I went to dinner with my family at our Tuesday night hangout spot, Sports Grill.  My mother jokingly asked if I was going to eat a good meal that night since the food on the ship will probably consist of bologna sandwiches and bottled water. Boy was she wrong!  To the contrary, the food has been impeccable and life aboard is definitely not as grueling as I imagined.

Surf and Turf  done right! BBQ pork belly with tuna!


One week into my journey I have learned much about life at sea, especially aboard the Point Sur.  Things are very busy on the Point Sur and sleep is a high commodity.  Teams work around the clock to ensure that their research goals are met.  At any given time, you can see people moving about the ship, but at the same time you must also keep in mind that other people are in their bunks sleeping.  Personally, I have found it easier to sleep between my morning and afternoon shift.  For some reason sleeping between the night and morning shift does not suit my body well. 



The crew and scientists on board have been nothing short of entertaining!  Everyone is very easy going, probably because we all realize we have to live together for 2 weeks in such tight quarters.  We all seem to use sarcasm as a way to diffuse possible tension caused by the lack of sleep that one might encounter; therefore, jokes in the lab are a must!  Dr. Sutton is usually the person who breaks the awkward silence that fills the lab during the start of the 3am lab shift by making a silly reference to something hilarious that quickly energizes the morning crew. He is like our “cup of coffee”. 

Dr. Sutton sporting a smile and all that DEEPEND swag!


After the morning lab work is done, many of us stay up to continue the paperwork that is required by all research missions and others take the time to get sleep.  After the evening lab shift we usually gather around the television to watch the Rio Olympics!  The Olympics have become a focal point of discussions and you will hear the occasional cheer when the United States wins a medal, but that is quickly followed by someone in the group saying, “shhhh, people are sleeping”. 

The galley is the spot to be!



After dinner is dessert which may consist of several options, including the infamous Ice Cream Freezer.  This freezer’s sole purpose is dedicated to housing all the sorted ice cream you can think of. The freezer lid even has a sense of levity and encourages you to eat some!  I am sure my daughter and niece will love to have one of these at their grandparent’s house! 

Ice cream humor!



For tonight’s dessert we were in for a treat as the grill was still hot from the steak dinner.  Chef Alex quickly took out some graham crackers, Hershey’s chocolate, and marshmellows for a s’mores delight!  We had a great time on the boat’s deck grilling our dessert and then laughing at each other for the chocolate and marshmallow leftovers on our faces.



After s’mores we celebrated Ben’s (Bio-acoustics) birthday with a song and cake!

 Happy Birthday Ben!

With no morning MOCNESS trawl, we will be gearing up for some night fishing!  If I land that 1,000lbs sailfish I will definitely update this blog and post some pictures!





Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea

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Laura, a PhD candidate from Florida International University, and Megan a graduate student from NOVA Southeastern University head the crustacean team on DEEPEND 04.  Most people are familiar with shrimp and crabs, but Team Crusty is concerned with much more.  Crabs, lobsters, shrimp, krill, and even mantis shrimp are points of interest. 


Both Laura and Megan are trying to establish the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 on the overall health of the Gulf crustaceans.  After the oil spill, species may have been completely wiped out, but may be supported by other crustaceans migrating from other areas like the Atlantic or Caribbean.

Laura is gathering her last specimens for her study on the crustacean genetic population in the Gulf after the oil spill.  She is trying to collect genetic data that may support that other crustaceans from the Atlantic and/or Caribbean may be migrating to the Gulf. And if so, are they helping to replenish the population that was lost after the oil spill? 

Megan is gathering data for her thesis which is focusing on the abundance and diversity of crustaceans.  She is also using that data to compare to the past DEEPEND cruises. She uses morphology rather than genetics to identify her specimens.  Her animal of interest is krill, but is very passionate about Phromina sedentaria (shown below).  This creature lives in this tiny barrel in order to capture its prey and to lay its eggs.




One area of focus that is becoming more predominant are parasites.  Below is a parasite attached to a Benthesicymidae.  This specimen will be sent to the lab for further study.



One of the coolest crustacean pulled up was a Cystisoma.  This deep sea, alien looking creature is transparent and are fairly rigged compared to its appearance.  Laura and Megan pointed out that it has 2 large lens on its head to detect light very similar to the way eyes do.




Team Crusty is definitely a joy to work with in the lab, even when they “bother me” for station net tags!


Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea

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Today I spent some time on the bridge of the Point Sur and Captain Nic Allen was very generous to show me the ropes.  He helped explain some basic features that are needed for a smooth ride.  He was first to point out the Furuno X band radar which came in handy during the storm that was rolling in.  He was able to make adjustments to the ships course according to the weather system.  He also pointed out that with this machine, he is able to locate other vessels within a18-25-mile range.  Along with the position coordinates of the vessels within that range, the radar is capable of giving great detail about them as well.  He was able to tell me the ships origins and final destination, how many crew were on board, its speed, and the closest distance between it and us if we continued the same trajectory.  This comes in handy because Capt. Allen is constantly walking from one end of the wheel house to the other.  Many times he is checking instrumentation and other times he is overseeing the crew as they manipulate the heavy machinery needed aboard the Point Sur. 

The Furuno X band radar system.



Captain Allen was able to give me a rundown of the ship’s throttle and steering controls.  He said that this ship is easily guided because it is equipped with great electronics and a great crew.  I plan on spending more time with Capt. Allen as the trip continues so he can give me a detailed tour of the ship’s navigational capabilities. 

Captain Allen explains the throttle system on the Point Sur.





The command center.



Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea

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Last night, after the Soul Train excitement in the laboratory, we decided to use an hour of down time to play with the “Green Magnet”.  I’ve been hearing the crew and the scientists speak about it, but I had no idea what they were talking about.  I learned the Green Magnet is a green lighting system that is placed in the water next to the boat.  This light attracts a wide arrange of animals including cephalopods and fish.  Almost simultaneously, the squid and fish began gathering toward the green light as soon as it entered the water, which was a sight to see.  Swarms of small schooling fish began hovering around the Green Magnet as squid would jet from one side to the other.  A few of us even dropped some fishing lines in the water in the hopes of catching a fish or even jigging a squid.



Nice catch Travis!



In the early afternoon today I had a chance to remember why I love teaching.  I was able to Skype with students from the Florida Aquarium Summer Camp.  The students were elementary aged but were full of energy and questions.  Dr. Judkins and I started off the video session by introducing ourselves and explaining our research goals at sea. 

After learning about our mission the students were very eager to ask questions, so we opened it up to the floor.  Many great questions were asked and it was apparent these students had knowledge of the ocean.  Many questions were asked about cephalopods, particularly cuttlefish and giant squid, which is Dr. Judkins’ specialty.

Students were also very eager to ask about life at sea, specifically on the vessel.  They were in shock when they learned the DEEPEND team will spend 16 days and nights at sea.  With that in mind, they inquired about what the staterooms looked like.  They were excited to hear we have bunk beds aboard the Point Sur, and they even started laughing when I told them I hit my head sitting up in bed.   Then they asked about the number of people on board and Dr. Judkins answered “23” and the student replied “so it’s like a party” and immediately all the kids started dancing.  I even caught a student in the back doing the Whip and Nae Nae (I loved this and my COAST students will tell you I often Whip and Nae Nae with them in class). 

After the camp counselors settled them down, they became very intrigued with anglerfish and blobfish.  It was at that exact moment Dr. Moore peaked his head into the Skype session to give detailed answers being his expertise. We all had a great time educating and laughing with the students while we Skyped.



Good folks, the excitement for today did not stop there…


With storm clouds rolling in, and 2 AUV’s to be picked up, I was to experience something really cool!  The weather became stormy and the waves were too great to deploy the zodiac to retrieve the AUV’s so the captain decided to position the Point Sur to use the crane on board to assist with the retrievals.  I quickly put on my hard hat and PFD, then witnessed the intense process of the retrieval.  I was on deck with the rain beating down and the waves crashing over the stern of the vessel.  I truly felt an adrenaline rush as it reminded me of episodes of The Deadliest Catch.  The ship was rocking consistently by the large waves from the storm.  After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, the ECOGIG’s AUV, the SALTY DAWG, was successfully retrieved from the stormy ocean.  The SALTY DAWG and the MODENA (retrieved yesterday) are safely onboard heading back to land with us.  Even though these AUV’s are not operated by DEEPEND, this shows the dedication and collaboration of the science community to work together in achieving our goals.




This experience was so amazing and heart throbbing; I will remember it for time to come!  I am looking forward to more amazing experiences as the ones I was able to experience today!



Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea






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With stormy weather on the horizon, the 3am MOCNESS net pull showed some really great and unique fish.  For the first time, I saw a Red Velvet Whalefish.  I asked many questions about this fish as it was the first time I have seen or heard of it.  This fish occurs in deep tropical waters between 200m – 2,000m. To the touch, it felt fragile and not as hearty as it looks but it was still very impressive.

Below is a picture of the Red Velvet Whalefish.


Another cool catch was this juvenile Strawberry squid. Dr. Judkins quickly called me over to her station so I may take a look at it. If you look closely, this magnificent specimen is very tiny but what it lacks in size, it makes up in appearance.  This squid species can grow up to 0.5m in length and has 2 different sized eyes.  1 regular eye which is responsible for the positioning of the body’s trajectory and another telescopic eye that sits on top and constantly searches for food. 

Below is a picture taken through a microscope. My daughter says it looks like Minnie Mouse, what do you think?



The afternoon nets seem to pull up even stranger things.  With a completely full net 0 (254 fish specimens), Dr. Cook and Dr. Judkins completely transformed in to 90’s hip hop/pop queens!  They turned on the radio and the mood completely changed.  With records like Ice Ice Baby, Salt-n-Pepa’s Push It, and MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This, the laboratory was almost like a karaoke party.  Everyone was singing along to every word without missing a beat.  I even got my partner Mike to jump in with a few verses.  But the total shock value increased when Dr. Sutton began rapping Snoop Dogg lyrics while sporting a backwards DEEPEND hat.  Everyone was filled with laughs and smiles, which helped overshadow the daunting task of many specimens to process, hence the title of this blog – MOC-MOC Baby!


Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea



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Wow, what a day it has been aboard the Point Sur!  After what would seem to be a regular MOCNESS sort, I was told that the SLOCUM glider was ready to be launched.  I was very excited for this news because I have only seen this done on television shows and now I had a chance to be a part of it in real life!   

The SLOCUM glider is an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that can dive up to 1,000m to record different data including temperature, conductivity (to calculate water salinity and density), currents, and bio-acoustical data. As is rises from the depths, it synchs with satellites so data can be downloaded.  This particular AUV can spend up to 2 weeks roaming the ocean before it is ready to be picked up.  I was told that later on our cruise, we will be picking up 2 other SLOCUMs that were deployed about 2 weeks ago.  That data will be instrumental to our understanding of the ocean’s depths. Below is a picture of our crew launching the SLOCUM.  You may notice in the last picture the tail of the glider is pointing to the sky.  This is the data uplink communicating with the satellite above.  After a few moments, the glider was on its way.

Below is a diagram of the SLOCUM's inner make up.



Below is the crew loading the SLOCUM into the zodiac.  



Below is the crew deploying the SLOCUM as it begins its data up link to the satellite.



After seeing the SLOCUM start its journey, I smelled a great odor in the air.  The smell that your olfactory nerves usually react to on the 4th of July…barbeque! As I walked around the deck I saw Chef Alex grilling steak. It smelled delicious and tasted even better.  He said he wanted to cook a Brazilian inspired dish in honor of the Rio Olympic Games. 

Chef Alex stopped for a quick picture before getting back to the grill! 



After dinner, the science team was to witness a magical and very rare specimen!  The Linophryne is a type of angler fish. This angler fish is the only one to use both intrinsic and symbiotic bioluminescence.  This specimen is so rare the entire team stopped working to take photos with the magnificent creature.  Dante also was able to work his magic and take the incredible picture below! If you look closely there is a male Linophryne (called a parasitic male) attached to the bottom side of the female that is used for its sperm for reproductive purposes, while its circulatory system is infused with the female.  The other impressive characteristic of this specimen is its size.  According to Dr. Sutton, he has never seen one of this magnitude.  We all were in awe just looking at this beautiful creature!

Below is the specimen caught today.



Below is the transformation of this species from juvenile to adult.



I am definitely looking forward to more moments like the ones I experienced today.  I am always learning something new and I love that I am able to actively participate in these moments.


Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea

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The 2:30am wakeup call on day 4 was a bit of a challenge. We arrived at station SW6 around midnight and the MOCNESS net was deployed.  Last evening, I spent some time learning how this intricate piece of equipment is put together.  Chief scientist Dr. Sutton headed the team to properly assemble the MOCNESS.  If just one step in assembly process is missed, or incorrectly completed, we will lose valuable samples and have incorrect data. 


During the MOCNESS assembly, Dr. Sutton and Dr. Judkins took the time to explain convergence zone that were noticed in the water.  This is an area of water where surface currents converge nutrient rich waters to form what can be described as a smooth river-like appearance on the surface of the ocean. At one point this wrapped completely around the boat.


After the MOCNESS net was assembled and deployed, it was time to pull it up at 3am so we began the data collection.  The lab team is separated in to 3 taxonomic categories:  fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans. Once a specimen is correctly identified it is set to the team that will record its weight, length, genetic make-up, and some are sent to record its stable isotopes or PAH’s back on land.  


Some very rare or unique specimens are sent to Dante so he may photograph them.  He is responsible for putting together a collection of pictures of the creatures in the Gulf.  Below is him capturing an eel larvae in the science photo laboratory that was created aboard the Point Sur.


The sorting process took some time for me to understand.  There are so many different collections bags and containers that need to be labeled properly with the correct specimen inside. There is also a process for each specimen depending on the data goals that were set before the trip.  Below is me sorting pteropods.  


Learning the scientific names have been much of a challenge too, but everyone has been very helpful and patient with me as I learn.  The toughest part of the job was trying to properly weigh and measure something that was only a few millimeters in length with a boat that was rocking enough to make someone fall over.  I will definitely adapt better during the next collection today at 3pm and I am looking forward to the challenge.

Below is a picture of a Melanolagus berycoides that was caught in MOCNESS net #2 which is set between 1,000-1,2000m deep.



As I close out today’s entry I will leave you with a beautiful picture of the Gulf of Mexico sun set!






Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea


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               Waking up upon day 3 to rainy weather and a rocking vessel, I quickly had to rethink my shower taking strategy.  The sway of the vessel from the waves caused me to hold on to the shower head or brace myself to the wall to prevent me from falling over.  I learned to always keep 1 hand for myself and 1 hand for the boat.  It is a great thing I began dosing myself with Dramamine last night as the symptoms of motion sickness have not been much of a factor. 

               After washing up, I head to the galley for coffee and some breakfast.  After about 4 cups of coffee and another Dramamine pill, I was ready for the MUSTER Drill.  After the safety meeting the alarm bell rang which is the signal to grab your personal flotation device (PFD) and head to your MUSTER station for a head count, this is where you would meet in case of an emergency. This is also where the life boats are housed.


For my COAST students, this is what a LEVEL I Off-Shore PFD looks like and it is designed to keep you upright while floating in the water.


After the drill we had the science laboratory meeting where instructions and specific job duties were discussed.  Dr. Sutton reviewed the procedures of the MOCNESS net (Multiple Opening/Closing Net Environmental Sensing System) and the importance for following strict guidelines.  He then diagramed how the 6 different nets operate in order to get the samples from different depths (200m-1500m)


Dr. Cook and Dr. Judkins then gave me my assignment.  I will be helping to sort, measure, and weigh the different species that come aboard. I will be working with Mike at this station here.


As I am typing this, Dr. Judkins came running in and said there are a pod of dolphins on the bow of the boat.  I thought this would be a perfect way to end this blog entry right before dinner!  SEE THE VIDEO BELOW!!!




Dolphin video


We should be at our 1st station at around midnight tonight, so stay tuned in for more exciting updates!



Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea


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               Hello all, this is Chris Valdes checking in for the first time aboard the Point Sur, Gulfport, Mississippi. I am very honored to be aboard as the Teacher at Sea and awaiting this adventure.  We are set to leave port at midnight and I am filled with many emotions, mainly excitement.  I can sense the same emotions from everyone aboard.  We have shared many laughs and great stories about life and our careers.  Everyone aboard has been very helpful getting me settled in as a member of the DEEPEND family.

               Upon arrival on day 1, I eagerly helped unload the lab equipment and food delivery truck.  I was completely amazed by the amount of equipment that is needed.  Everything that is needed to sustain a laboratory on land is equally needed at sea.  Major equipment like microscopes, electronics, and even a SLOCUM glider are not over shadowed by even the smallest of lab gear such as pens, pencils, duct tape, and Sharpie markers. Every item has its specific place in the lab and needs to be secured to the vessel for safety precautions.

               Day 2 was filled with final preparation for our journey.  A quick stop at Walmart and an amazing lunch at Murky Waters Blues and BBQ turned in to great conversation as the weather prevented us from leaving.  Stories from past DEEPEND cruises were shared and I really sensed the passion from everyone around the table.  Everyone has a specific task while at sea.  Species identification, population migrations, and bio-acoustical sampling are a few areas of interest.  Everyone has a plethora of knowledge about their specific field and has been very helpful sharing it with me.

Make sure you stay tuned in to the blog so I may share that knowledge with you!

We are ready to set sail!

Signing off,


Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea 



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