Q&A with Maritime Archaeologist Dr. James P. Delgado

Published October 09, 2014

In advance of his upcoming lecture at the Aquarium on October 21, we chatted with maritime archaeologist, explorer and author Dr. James P. Delgado about shipwrecks, sanctuaries and underwater exploration.

james delgado

Image via James Delgado. 

How did you first become interested in maritime archaeology?

Archaeology fascinated me as early as Grade 5; I went on my first dig at age 14 and was hooked. My introduction to marine archaeology came in 1978, when I watched the excavation of a ship sunk on the old waterfront of San Francisco that dated to the Gold Rush. I learned to dive, and now, decades later, I'm still as passionate and fascinated as I was when I began my career.

You spent your first few years at NOAA exploring the sunken Titanic. Can you tell us what that experience was like? 

Titanic, like so many other wrecks I have been privileged to explore, document and help preserve, is an awe-inspiring dive—in this case 12,463 feet deep, or two and a half miles! 


Image courtesy of NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

It is also a time capsule and a powerful reminder of the people caught up in history's events. Titanic is a sad, compelling place to explore and to learn from.

As a veteran of over 100 shipwreck investigations, you’ve traveled the world and explored everything from Khubilai Khan’s legendary lost fleet to the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Which expedition has fascinated you the most? Which was the most challenging?

Each expedition, each site, has had its unique aspects, challenges and excitement. In all honesty, the ones that fascinate me most are the next ones to explore, and to see what can be learned and then shared.

Any exciting upcoming projects NOAA is pursuing? 

Oh, yes. Stay tuned....

Can you elaborate on the importance of preserving historic shipwrecks and the role National Marine Sanctuaries play? 

Sanctuaries, like national, state and local parks, and other marine protected areas help protect and preserve historic shipwrecks by making them part of these special ocean places.  In these places, wrecks are shared through dive trails, exhibits and other means—asking visitors to leave only bubbles and take only photographs. The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, through its 14 sites in the system, spans the country and includes many wrecks—all compelling reminders of our past, the role of ships and shipping, and of the people who used those ships to build America. Their legacy, in part, rests below in one of the greatest museums on the planet—the oceans and lakes.

Reserve your spot for James Delgado’s upcoming lecture here!

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