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Teachers at sea blog category.

Posted by on in Teachers

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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Posted by on in Teachers

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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Posted by on in Teachers

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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Posted by on in Teachers

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


Last modified on

Posted by on in Teachers

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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