Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures

Expedition Team Bios
Diving Technology
Underwater HD Filming


Meet the Expedition Team

Don Santee, Expedition Leader

Don Santee
Photo credit: Carrie Vonderhaar

As the Ocean Adventures expedition leader, Don Santee has the central role in directing field filming activities and marine operations. He is the person who makes sure that everything is always running smoothly. He ensures that people are in the right places at the right times, makes sure that the right equipment is onboard and ready, and oversees safety and dive procedures -- the team's highest priority. He has also been trained to serve as the expedition's medical officer.

In his 30 years working with Jean-Michel and Jacques Cousteau, Don has held many different roles. He started out as a dive master on Cousteau education projects, port engineer for Calypso and Alcyone as well as chief diver on expeditions. Highly experienced in working with state-of-the-art closed-circuit rebreathers, Don is currently responsible for training the Cousteau team on advanced technical dive procedures. He also assists Jean-Michel with designing innovative dive equipment.

Don lives in Santa Barbara, California, and his travels have taken him to such exotic places as Alaska, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Cape Horn, Antarctica, the Amazon, Cambodia and the Galapagos. Don has worked on 36 television film specials for network television.

Interview with Don Santee

What personality traits are helpful in your role as expedition leader?

Well, for not only my position but anyone's position on the expeditions, you've got to be able to get along with people. We are in a confined area for prolonged periods of time - we could be gone from a few days up to several months. So what I find is that you've got to be able to get along in tight confinements with a lot of different personalities. It's also good to be calm. I find that when you start moving too fast, you start making mistakes. My theory is "slow is fast." You get more accomplished by doing things methodically and slowly.

Describe an underwater film shoot?

Underwater, it's the luck of the draw, really. It depends on the cooperation of the subjects - marine life in their natural environment. You can't just rush into the water with a huge team. You've got to do it very slowly and build up. Typically, we start with a small team and try to get some basic shots, then if the animal is cooperative, we'll try to bring in more lighting people and more subject divers, and take it from there. The Cousteau team has been doing underwater film shoots for so long that we can usually do it pretty seamlessly, but there's still a lot of thought going into all these shots. You can never be sure what weather conditions are going to be, and that's the primary concern. Then there is the dive itself. There are a lot of factors - the depth, the current, the animal that you're actually filming, to name a few. And safety is always an issue, so we certainly have that in mind all the time as well.

What most surprised you about the Voyage to Kure expedition?

The one thing that was really startling was the amount of trash that we found washed up on this island chain, and it's about 1,200 miles long, which goes from the High Islands all the way out to Midway and the international date line. It was an amazing amount of trash. For 40 years, 50 years, 100 years, people haven't been out there cleaning it up, so it has just accumulated over many, many years. The trash was really the most astounding thing we found.