Delgado is a maritime archaeologist who has spent nearly four decades in underwater exploration. A veteran of over 100 shipwreck investigations around the world, his work has included RMS Titanic, USS Monitor, USS Arizona (BB-39), Sub Marine Explorer, the buried Gold Rush ships of San Francisco, and Khubilai Khan's legendary lost fleet.
Archaeology made a lasting impression on him from age 10, when he became fascinated with a construction site near his home in the Santa Teresa foothills that revealed the remains of the Ohlone people who had lived in the region thousands of years before. At age 14, he landed his first job as a fifty cent per hour assistant at the New Almaden Museum south of San Francisco, sweeping floors and washing windows. He spent many hours eagerly studying artifacts housed in the glass cases, and eventually graduated to tour guide.
During his high school years, with permission from site supervisors, he would dig and survey local construction site areas, working side-by-side with Bay Area archaeologists like Chester and Linda King and Rob Edwards, who served as mentors. He also began conferring with graduate students of an archaeology class from San Jose State University, where he would eventually enroll as a history major thanks to the mentorship of Dr. Theodore "Ted" C. Hinckley of the History Department, who convinced Delgado's parents to send him to University and not the local community college. In his sophomore year, he shifted to San Francisco State University as a cooperative education student working with the National Park Service (NPS). He graduated with a B.A. in American history, and would later teach at this and three other universities.
He remained with the NPS as the first Park Historian for Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) serving from 1979-1986. The park covered 35,000 acres containing more than 2,000 historic buildings and sites such as Alcatraz, and a number of military forts and gun batteries, including a forgotten Civil War fortification at Fort Mason which he excavated. His destiny might have been as a land archaeologist if he were not transfixed by the sight of the gold rush-era ship Niantic's unearthed timbers in San Francisco's Financial District when he was 20. Delgado worked with archaeologist Dr. Allen Pastron on several excavations beginning in 1979. Among the buried ships from 1849-1851 that he would help excavate or analyze are the storeships Niantic and General Harrison, the ships William Gray and Candace, and many more.
He also learned to scuba dive during his NPS tenure, and worked closely with the Park Service's Submerged Cultural Resources Unit when the NPS sent him to the Presidio of San Francisco to attend an Army dive class. He was involved in wreck surveys both inside and outside the NPS jurisdiction, including Pearl Harbor, where he studied the USS Arizona and USS Utah and at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, where he worked with the team on the atomic-bombed ships of Operation Crossroads, the world's first nuclear tests (1946). He was principal author of the final NOS study on the Bikini Atoll wrecks. Those shipwrecks include the carrier USS Saratoga, Japanese battleship Nagato, battleship USS Arkansas, destroyer USS Lamson, attack transport USS Gilliam, and submarines USS Pilotfish and USS Apogon.
After a one-year sabbatical from the NPS in 1984-1985 to attend East Carolina University, Delgado gained a master's degree in Maritime History and Underwater Research and was subsequently assigned by NPS Chief Historian Edwin C. Bearss to work as project historian on the USS Monitor project with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He then headed the NPS maritime preservation program—the National Maritime Initiative (NMI)—as its founding chief, starting in 1987. The NMI also functions as the maritime preservation program for the entire federal government, so in this role, Delgado led the effort to study 142 ships for designation as national landmarks, inventoried the nation's maritime resources, and supported the development of standards and guidelines for preservation and documentation. He personally prepared the studies for 54 properties, including several lightships, fireboats, tugboats, submarines, and other warships, including the Bowdoin. Ernestina, and Virginia V''. As of 2010, there were approximately 2,500 National Historic Landmarks in the United States.
Delgado spent his last field season with NPS in 1990, working again at Bikini, and then leading a team to Mexico to jointly study the remains of the 1846 USS Somers, the setting for the navy's only mutiny and the inspiration for Herman Melville's Billy Budd. In 1991, he moved to Vancouver, British Columbia where he took on the role of Executive Director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum for the next fifteen years. His work included organizing a $3-million reenactment of the historic Northwest Passage and North America-circumnavigating voyages of the museum's centerpiece exhibit, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner St. Roch. He led the crew that restored Ben Franklin (PX-15), a 130-ton oceanographic research submersible originally built in Switzerland for famed undersea explorer and scientist Jacques Piccard and most famously used on a historic 30-day "drift mission" along the eastern seaboard of the United States in 1969.
During his museum tenure, he returned to university to undertake his Ph.D. in archaeology, receiving the distinction in 2006 from Simon Fraser University. Following his graduation, he was named an Adjunct Member of the Faculty of the Department of Archaeology. From 2001 to 2006, he hosted, and was the team archaeologist on, the popular Canadian-made National Geographic documentary series The Sea Hunters, which drew an audience of over 200 million people in over 172 countries. He worked with famous novelist, raconteur and shipwreck hunter Clive Cussler, the series presenter, master divers Mike and Warren Fletcher, and John Davis from Eco-Nova Productions.
In 2006, he moved to Texas and joined the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) as Executive Director. In April 2008, he was elected President and CEO of this worldwide nautical archaeology organization. In October 2010, he left INA to become the Director of Maritime Heritage in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in Washington, D.C. He coordinates and at times supervises all maritime heritage activities in the 14 units in the NMS system.
During his first two years with NOAA, he was involved in the Titanic mapping expedition as chief scientist, continued his years of study on the Civil War-era, pearl-diving submersible Sub Marine Explorer, participated in field work while reorganizing and focusing the maritime heritage program, and mentored five high school kids from Saginaw, Michigan for Project Shiphunt.
Delgado has a long list of professional and public service designations, including a presidency with the Council of American Maritime Museums, and he is also a member of several organizations such as the Archaeological Institute of America and The Explorers Club.
He has written over 100 articles, including Letter from Bermuda: Secrets of a Civil War Shipwreck and A Pearl of Discovery and contributed to or edited over 33 books, including Silent Killers: Submarines and Underwater Warfare, Nuclear Dawn: The Atomic Bomb From the Manhattan Project to the Cold War, Gold Rush Port: The Maritime Archaeology of San Francisco's Waterfront, and two international best-sellers; Across the Top of the World: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and Lost Warships: An Archaeological Tour of War at Sea. He has received five prestigious book awards and spoken worldwide to hundreds of groups and organizations including high schools classes, university groups, scientific, archaeology, and business organizations and is a frequent lecturer for Zegrahm Expeditions and the Archaeological Institute of America.1999 John Lyman Book Awards
2011 James L. Deetz Award