All Posts By

Amy Kerr

Roger Payne Needs Your Help to Write A Declaration of Interdependence

By | FEB15, Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

Dear all,

My January wish for this, the month of the year in which I turn 80, is that you will help write a Declaration of Interdependence that the world can subscribe to. There have been dozens of previous such declarations but none that I feel focus strongly enough on the crucial importance of non-human species, or on such not-so-obvious things as the fact that the health of terrestrial life depends on the health of ocean life (and vice versa). Read More

EPA Proposal on Dispersant Use Validates Our Five Years in the Gulf of Mexico

By | FEB15, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

Sometimes it is hard to measure the direct effects of our work.  As we collect data on marine mammals and our oceans we have two principle goals: the first is to change people’s attitudes as to the importance of our oceans and the second is to collect data that can help policy makers make wise decisions as they relate to sustainable utilization of ocean resources. Read More

Roger Payne is Dedicating His 80th Year to Changing the Fate of Our Oceans

By | FEB15, Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

50 years ago when I first became concerned about their fate, whales were being hastened towards extinction by whaling. There was no Save-the-Whales movement; in fact, whales seldom crossed anyone’s mind.

 When Scott McVay and I discovered the powerfully lovely songs of humpback whales I saw them as a way to capture the world’s interest in the plight of whales, and I put all of my efforts into stopping the criminal act that turned whales into cat food and cosmetics.

As time passed the movement succeeded in greatly reducing whaling. But a new threat to whales soon emerged that was potentially worse than whaling: ocean pollution. It was caused by the compounds we synthesize to enjoy “better living” through chemistry.

I later realized that it was not pollution alone but many other interconnecting, interacting, positive feedback loops that threatened whales plus many other ocean species—for example: the buildup of CO2 creates ocean acidification which destroys plankton.

In short, my life has carried me from the specific to the general, and what started as an effort to stop a single fatal force from destroying a species has become an effort to stop dozens of forces from destroying life in all its forms, both in the ocean and on the land.

Thanks to global warming and ocean acidification there has never been a more urgent need for action—never a greater need to put all of our time, effort and treasure into changing the way that we and our fellow humans conduct our lives. Life on Earth and civilization as we know it hang in the balance.

In spite of how scary this situation is it also has a hugely positive side: for it offers our generation the most singular opportunity for greatness ever offered to any generation in history. If we seize that opportunity and act we will be admired and loved above all future generations.

Please join me in pledging to dedicate all of our efforts in the next decade to working to change the fate of the oceans.

Each month in this my 80th year I will announce another of my goals and dreams, and describe why I think it is important to whales, to the ocean, and to all life. I will also describe ways in which you can help achieve that dream.

My dream for January comes from what I consider to be the most consequential scientific discovery of the past 100 years—the slow realization that all species are interdependent. This means that the future of each species depends on the future of a great many other species. From this simple natural law we see that it is not possible to save just a single species, unless we also protect the lives of the hundreds of species on which that species’ life depends.

From this it follows that the welfare of some non-human species is as important to the survival of humans as it is to the survival of the non-human species. If we fail to recognize that fact we will have no future—at least none that you or I would care to experience.

My January wish, therefore, is to create a Declaration of Interdependence for nations to ratify. There have been several such declarations previously but none that focused strongly enough on the health of the ocean and on non-human species. I will post a draft of such a declaration on my birthday so you can suggest changes before we send it out in its final form. Ever since 1776 we in America have valued independence; what we must now learn to value even more is our interdependence with the rest of life. It is our only way to reach the future.

– Dr. Roger Payne, President and Founder of Ocean Alliance

New 3-D Printer For Our Robotics Program

By | Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

We were visited this week by Dana Seero, the President and CEO of CAPINC–a leading Solidworks and Stratasys re-seller in New England. Dana and Jason Matses brought to our headquarters a new exciting tool, not only for our Robotics Program, but also for our educational initiatives–a MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3-D Printer.

Gloucester High School Robotics Teacher Kurt Lichtenwald, a key member of our Applied Robotics Club at the Paint Factory, has demonstrated the 3-D printers at the high school and offered to print us parts when we need them. As much as we appreciate this offer, it’s great to have a machine of our own that we can use on demand and also use to better understand how this technology can be integrated into our Robotics Program.

MakerBot Replicator DesktopI am an advocate for 3-D printers on many levels. To have the ability to make and modify a small part, rather than have to wait a week to have it custom-made and mailed is very exciting. There is also a better use of materials with most 3-D printers nowadays, having the capacity to recycle the material that is not used. The MakerBot Replicator has a small web-linked camera that allows our team members to monitor the status of a project online.

For those of you who would like to learn more about 3-D printing I suggest Avi Reichental’s TED Talk “What’s Next in 3-D Printing.” He gives a great tour through the possibilities of 3-D printing from customized food to sneakers.

Many thanks to Dana and CAPINC for giving us this tool to will expand our research and educational capacity.

– Iain Kerr, Ocean Alliance CEO

[Pictured above: Greg Taylor, Dan Albani, Iain Kerr, Jason Matses]

Roger Payne Makes a Splash on NPR

By | FEB15, Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

Our phone lines lit up over the holiday break as listeners of NPR’s “All Things Considered” reported to us that “Roger Payne was on the radio right now!” The piece was called “How Pop Music Helped Save the Whales” and it was originally produced by Michael May and Studio 360, but it was rebroadcast on “All Things Considered” just in time for the evening commute. In the piece Roger talks about how his discovery with Scott McVay that humpback whales sing songs became a part of the Save the Whale movement when the world was looking for meaning and inspiration, and Judy Collins talks about the first time she met Roger, when he handed her a tape containing his new discovery.

To our surprise the piece was picked up and shared by conservation groups and whale lovers all over social media and once again people were talking about whale songs. We hope they keep talking.

The Whale Guitar Visits Ocean Alliance

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

It’s amazing how you can help whales and our oceans just by using your own personal talents. Jen Long discovered this when she embarked on the Whale Guitar Project. A designer from Providence, Rhode Island, Jen and a group of like-minded individuals–William Schaff, Rachel Rosenkrantz-Riemer and Gwen Forrester, designed and built a remarkable instrument inspired by Moby-Dick and in the style of scrimshaw with the purpose of raising awareness and funds for ocean conservation. We were honored last year when Jen informed us that she wanted to bring Ocean Alliance into the project after following our work. Considering our organization was built on the discovery that humpback whales sing songs, we have always been passionate about the relationship between art, science, and conservation.

Jen Long with the Whale GuitarThe Whale Guitar Project has had some exciting stops along the way, including the recent Moby-Dick Marathon Reading at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where the guitar was on display and played for those who had gathered to read the classic novel aloud from start to finish.

We were thrilled this week to have Jen and the Whale Guitar visit our headquarters, the Paint Factory in Gloucester, MA, and Jen was kind enough to give the staff an impromptu concert. We look forward to building on our partnership this year with more performances and we thank Jen and her talented team for sharing their time and skills for the benefit of our ocean.

 

SnotBot on Discovery Channel’s “Daily Planet”

By | FEB15, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

Our drone for whale research affectionately called “SnotBot,” created in collaboration with our partners at Olin College of Engineering, was recently featured on the Discovery Channel series “Daily Planet.” In the segment Iain Kerr and our Robotics Team join Olin College robotics students with Dr. Andrew Bennett at our headquarters in Gloucester, MA to demonstrate how drones can help us understand what human activities cause whales stresses by allowing us to sample mucus containing stress hormones (plus viruses, bacteria and DNA) from their exhalations without disturbing the animal:

Roger Payne Asks You to Buy Less Stuff

By | Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

Dear Friends,

My organization, Ocean Alliance, has for years, distanced itself from the use of mass mailings, or as we call it…junk mail. As effective as it seems to be, it is no good for the environment to be mailing tons of paperwork, most of which gets thrown away. However, through this much more environmentally friendly message, I hope to reach you with an important message.

As we look to the future this holiday season, we might as well revisit that well-worn phrase:  Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. I think comedian George Carlin was correct, with his ironic statement – “Life is all about trying to find a place to keep all of our stuff – while we go out and get more stuff!” Unfortunately, the holiday season, once about family gatherings, having fun with friends and cherishing your loved ones, has begun to revolve around material “Stuff.”

According to a report by Harris Interactive, of the US adults who receive holiday gifts, 83% (more than 4 in 5) do not want the gifts. After they are opened, these presents and the packaging they come in simply become more “Stuff,” most of which is thrown away. So I encourage you this holiday season to think about all of the “Stuff” you are purchasing, including the packaging it comes in.

Basic Whale AdoptionInstead of buying “Stuff,” why not instead Go Green & Buy Blue? A whale adoption from Ocean Alliance fits that bill perfectly. By purchasing a whale adoption for a loved one, you can inspire and educate, while supporting Ocean Alliance’s ongoing whale and ocean pollution research devoted to protecting whales and their ocean world (…and you keep all of the packaging materials out of the oceans.)

One of the strongest tools for conserving the environment is the collective purchasing power of concerned consumers like you – if we stop buying single-use or overly packaged products, companies will stop wasting those resources.

So, please, flex your buying muscles this holiday season. Go Green & Buy Blue!

You can adopt a humpback whale here.

With very best wishes for the season,

Roger Payne

Robotics For Kids and Whales

By | FEB15, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

One of the initiatives that Ocean Alliance has been pushing hard on over the last year is the development of a robotics program. When our organization was founded in the 1970s most people believed you had to kill whales to learn about them. Our founder, Dr. Roger Payne, was a pioneer in developing benign research tools–techniques that can be used to collect data without killing the animals. Read More

You Can Help Save the Paint Factory

By | Ocean Alliance News, Paint Factory Headquarters | No Comments
Clean up at our headquarters, the former Tarr and Wonson Paint Manufactory has been a protracted and ongoing process. The birthplace of marine bottom paint, the site was contaminated with large amounts of copper, lead, chromium, arsenic and asbestos. We have invested almost 1 million dollars into clean-up and remediation so far. Currently, a clean utility corridor for the site is in the works–the $200K needed for this project came from the EPA in the form of a brownfields grant.  We expect to have to invest at least another half a million dollars into the site before we can claim that it is fully cleaned up.

Read More

New CD Release – “Voyages of the Odyssey: Acoustic Adventures”

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

This holiday season our whale adoption packages are being revamped with new treats for your whale lover. We’re excited to announce the release of a new sound recording called “Voyages of the Odyssey: Acoustic Adventures,” the first since “Songs of the Humpback Whale” and “Deep Voices,” which includes humpback whale songs recorded in the Seychelles during the Voyage of the Odyssey 2000-2005, plus melon-headed whales, pseudorcas (false killer whales), and sperm whales recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. This new cd will be included in all whale adoption packages. The new adoption packages will be ready for ordering next week, so stay tuned and #GoGreenBuyBlue!

Scientists Employ Satellite Tags To Solve Whale-Sized Mystery

By | Ocean Alliance News, Southern Right Whale Program | No Comments

For the first time, scientists working in the waters of Patagonia are using satellite tags to remotely track southern right whales from their breeding/calving grounds in the sheltered bays of Península Valdés, Argentina, to unknown feeding grounds somewhere in the western South Atlantic. This could eventually provide clues to the cause of one of the largest great whale die-off ever recorded.

The international effort for answers includes members from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Aqualie Institute of Brazil, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Cascadia Research Collective, working in cooperation with Fundación Patagonia Natural, Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas / Ocean Alliance, the University of California, Davis, the Dirección de Flora y Fauna (Wildlife Service), la Secretaría de Turismo, el Ministerio de Ambiente (Ministry of the Environment) of Argentina’s Chubut Province.

The announcement was made as conservationists are holding the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia – a once-in-a-decade global forum on protected areas.

Said Dr. Graham Harris, Director of WCS’s Argentina Program: “A provincial protected area and a key area with a long history of work by WCS, Peninsula Valdés was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in June of 2014 due to its importance to protect both terrestrial wildlife and marine species along its waters. As the World Parks Congress in Sydney is underway, it is imperative to highlight the importance of protected areas like Peninsula Valdes to safeguard unique wildlife and habitats.”

satellite tagging southern right whalesOver the past month, the team succeeded in affixing satellite transmitters to five southern right whales, a difficult task conducted during varying weather conditions in Golfo Nuevo, one of the two protected gulfs of Península Valdés and an important breeding ground for the southern right whale.

Vicky Rowntree, director of Ocean Alliance’s Right Whale Program comments: “It’s incredibly exciting to follow the daily movements of individual whales which we usually see only one day a year, at most, when we conduct our annual photo-identification surveys. The tagged whale that traveled southwest for a bit and then retraced its path was fascinating–why did it change its direction, what was it looking for and what did it find? By matching photographs of right whales taken in places far from the Peninsula Valdes, we’ve known for years that some PV mothers calve off Brazil in alternate years and that three PV whales traveled to feed in the krill-rich waters in the western South Atlantic off the island of South Georgia. These snapshots in time have been extremely important in delineating the population’s habitat but satellite tracking is allowing us to follow day-to-day movements and understand they make, the paths they follow and if the tags keep transmitting, hopefully, their feeding destinations. I can’t wait to search for the tagged whales in our PV catalogue of 3,000 individuals that have been photographed at PV over the past 44 years and attach life histories to their journeys.”

Over the past decade, southern right whale calves have died in unprecedented numbers (more than 400 between 2003-2011) for reasons still unclear to scientists. Different hypotheses for this mortality have been considered, including disease, certain types of contaminant, and harassment and wounding by kelp gulls, a frequent occurrence in Península Valdés.

southern right whale callositiesThis new research will help assess where the whales are feeding, namely if there could be any threats to the whales along their migration route or on their feeding grounds and if the research team can conduct additional tagging and studies to determine any issues associated with food or nutritional stress causing calf loss by some mothers.

Said Mariano Sironi, Scientific Director of the Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas in Argentina: “This project follows the recommendations made by the International Whaling Commission when it analyzed the recent increase in right whale calf mortality in Península Valdés. It is the result of the cooperation between non-governmental organizations, universities and government agencies. The scientific data resulting from this project will provide a new scale to our understanding of southern right whale behavior. Differences in movement patterns among the tagged individuals will certainly be fascinating.”

The deployed tags will transmit the geographical position and behavioral information of the animals up to Earth-orbiting satellites multiple times a day, allowing researchers to follow whales remotely. The researchers selected calving females and solitary juveniles for satellite tagging in order to glean insights into habitat use and migratory movements for different sex and age groups.

satellite tagging southern right whalesData accumulated thus far reveal unprecedented information for southern right whales: real-time information on long-range movements across marine regions. Two of the five whales have remained in the waters of Golfo Nuevo, while the other three have already left the bay. One of the animals is currently in deep waters of the South Atlantic, one has been spending its time over the continental shelf, and another has moved into deep offshore waters, but has returned to the continental shelf break. Movements from all whales have lead researchers to some areas where the tagged animals are likely feeding, and further discoveries of feeding grounds for this population may be revealed as the team tracks the movements of tagged animals.

Growing up to 55 feet in length and weighing up to 60 tons, the southern right whale is the most abundant species of the world’s three species of right whale. Unlike the North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales (both Endangered), southern rights have managed to rebound from centuries of commercial whaling, with populations that have grown by as much as approximately seven percent annually since 1970. Of the estimated total population of southern right whales found throughout the entire Southern Hemisphere, around one third use the protected bays of Península Valdés as a breeding and calving habitat between the months of June and December.

Source: http://www.wcs.org/press/press-releases/scientists-working-on-whale-sized-mystery.aspx

 

Annenberg Foundation Names Roger Payne & Iain Kerr As Visionary Leaders

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

To celebrate their 25th year of philanthropy, the Annenberg Foundation has named twenty-five of their grantees as “Visionary Leaders” in their fields. The individuals recognized range from conservationists of the wild world, such as Jane Goodall, to activists from the inner city, like Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone, and rural China such as Wu Qing, Founder of the Beijing Cultural Development Center for Rural Women. Included in the list are Ocean Alliance President Roger Payne and CEO Iain Kerr. Read More

Robotics Program Opens Up to Local Students

By | Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

This week a group of educators, students and robotics enthusiasts from our home city of Gloucester, Massachusetts met with Iain Kerr and staff at our new Robotics Lab to talk about how this space can be put to use for the benefit of the community. On first entering the new lab a couple of the attendees asked if they could move in. Visitors were able to check out our collection of drones and simulators, and had a nighttime demonstration flight of a drone.

Ocean Alliance Robotics LabDuring the day Ocean Alliance is aggressively pursuing projects on a number of different fronts in the field of marine robotics. Working with Olin College we are trying to develop drones that can collect a variety of data from our oceans with minimal effort from the handlers. But having the space open to local students and educators on evening Hobby Nights will add resources and collaboration opportunities to locals with an interest in robotics.

This work is supported in part by a grant from the Applied Material Foundation and the generosity of Antonio Bertone who provided the recycled shipping container that currently houses our lab at the Paint Factory in Gloucester.

Kim’s Dolphin Dock is Ready for Construction

By | Ocean Alliance News, Paint Factory Headquarters | No Comments

A special message from Kim Marshall-Tilas:

To all who helped support the Dolphin Dock!

As of October 23, 2014, Ocean Alliance received approval for the construction and installation of the Dolphin Dock! The process was arduous and required permit approvals from the Conservation Agent, Harbormaster, and Shellfish Warden, as well as a site visit from members of the Waterways Board of Gloucester. The plans submitted were found to be satisfactory and we are free to proceed.

The Dolphin Dock is a true birthday wish come true. I will admit, turning 50 was a bit rough, but thanks to all of you awesome people and your contributions to the Dolphin Dock fund, the big 5-0 was much easier. With your help, we raised enough to meet my goal of $9250. Though I had hoped to have a celebration on the dock before the snow fell, the permitting and construction process was far more in-depth than expected. Fortunately, the dock will be in place early next spring and I hope all of you will join me for a nice ceremony and a belated birthday celebration.

I can’t thank you enough for helping me bring this project to life and for making my birthday so special. I can’t believe I have such wonderful friends. I am truly grateful and wonderfully happy.

Thank you again and again,

Kim

 

 

Watch the Trailer for “Jane and Payne”

By | Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

Last fall Ocean Alliance President and founder Roger Payne traveled to the whale camp in Argentina that he founded in 1970 for the 43rd season of our Southern Right Whale Program with our partners Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas. He had made the journey this time to welcome a very special guest. Argentine filmmakers Boy Olmi and Dylan Williams had arranged a meeting at Whale Camp between two environmental icons, Jane Goodall and Roger Payne, in order to capture their conversations about their work to conserve whales and chimps, and to protect the environment as a whole from modern threats. The two shared meals, walks, and time with the whales, before returning to Buenos Aires to conduct a live webcast in which they discussed their hopes and fears about the task ahead. Read More

Put Plastic in Its Place – Vote Yes on 2 in MA

By | Ocean Alliance News, Pollution | No Comments

Next Tuesday Massachusetts voters will have the opportunity to put litter in its place. Living and working in a coastal community, we are all too aware of the plastics ending up in our waterways. We’ve conducted many shoreline clean-ups at our headquarters on Rocky Neck in Gloucester, MA, and on area beaches, and one of the most common items we come across is plastic water bottles. What if Massachusetts residents had an incentive to collect those bottles and return them? Read More

An Open Letter to Japan from Dr. Roger Payne

By | nov14, Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

A Sympathetic Voice: An Open Letter to Japan

When Christchurch, New Zealand was largely destroyed by a series of major earthquakes, the epicenters of those quakes lay along a fault line that runs very close to my house. Although we were exposed to the same violence that Christchurch was, and felt over 500 strong quakes, our house survived. That experience gave me the greatest empathy and concern for your country when on March 11, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake triggered the tsunami that overwhelmed the nuclear reactors at Fukushima. Read More

Patrick Stewart Supports SnotBot

By | nov14, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

When Ocean Alliance started in the whale conservation business in the 1970s, one of our primary goals was to show that you didn’t have to kill a whale to learn about it. What we were doing then was developing benign research tools and techniques. I like to think of OA as being a pathfinder organization. We are a small and agile organization that can respond quickly to emerging challenges and issues. Read More

Monitoring the Acoustic World of Whales

By | nov14, Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

Acoustic bleaching—there’s an expression you don’t hear every day.  Whales operate in a world of sound; it is their primary sense. Blue whales make sounds that can be heard thousands of miles away, or at least they used to be able to.  Humanity is not just filling our oceans with trash, we are filling our oceans with sound.  From commercial shipping, seismic exploration and military testing, the oceans are no longer the silent world that Jacques Cousteau once talked about. Read More

Southern Right Whale Aerial Survey Results

By | oct14, Southern Right Whale Program | No Comments

BLOG 3 – 17 September 2014

The Right Whale Program Research Update from the Field in Patagonia

The research season with the southern right whales at Península Valdés is progressing with good news. John Atkinson and I completed the 44th annual right whale photo-identification survey with a record number of whales seen: 757, most of which were mothers with their newborn calves. The first day we completed the survey of the northern bay, Golfo San José, and the second day we did Golfo Nuevo, the southern bay. This year there is a suprisingly large difference in the number of whales in each gulf, with nearly three times more whales in Golfo Nuevo than in San José. Read More

Roger Payne Attends People’s Climate March

By | Ocean Alliance News, oct14, Roger Payne | No Comments

Woodstock was a watershed moment; it identified who made the music that changed the world. Those at the People’s Climate March will play the tunes that change the world.

Lisa and I came to New York for three events: the projection of images on the United Nations buildings; the 310,000 person People’s Climate March; and a Multifaith Service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Projecting Change at United NationsAll three were inspirational—the images on the UN buildings were breathtaking, though the police shut down projection of images that moved by OPS  (Ocean Protection Society) founder Louie Psihoyos because cars on FDR drive were slowing down to look at them causing a traffic tie-up.

The March itself was moving beyond description—moving in a way I have not ever felt more deeply, and the Multifaith service was the grandest surprise. We sat in the Nave of the Cathedral beneath two massive sculptures of the Phoenix created out of discarded wastes, wrapped in tiny lights and looking like the Milky Way. The ceremony was opened by Chief Arvol Looking Horse (19th generation keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle) and one of the leaders of the march. Among his remarks was this comment summing up the days’ event:

Interfaith Ceremony at Climate MarchToday.

Many Generations.

One Prayer.

We heard from Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Al Gore, writer Terry Tempest Williams, Vandana Shiva (Nobel Prize winning founder of seed banks in India), plus 15 other speakers, all of whom, as they placed a stone on an altar in the center of the transcept, made a vow as to what they will do from now on for the earth (as did the entire congregation as the vast nave resonated with music by Paul Winter and others).

The most inspiring speaker for me was a Greenlander: Eskimo-Kalaallit Elder, Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Founder of IceWisdom. He said that he was born and had lived his whole 77 years by the Big Ice, and that when he was a child it was 5 kilometers thick and is dwindling FAST. He ended with an invocation to his ancestors which was riveting—his voice has clearly been shaped by a life spent in the embrace of Nature, wrapped in it, worshipping it, loving it, dreading it, revering it, thanking it. His message was: It is too late. We have failed in our response—and unless we melt the ice in the heart of Man things will not change.

As I write this, the action called Flood Wall Street is beginning—a dramatic acting-out of the harsh reality that when you put all power into the hands of the hyper-rich you close the doors to the courtroom, and open the doors to the street.

The World Unites for the Vaquita

By | Ocean Alliance News, Whales | No Comments

Ocean Alliance has joined NGO’s from around the world  in asking for protections for the vaquita porpoise, facing imminent extinction in Mexico:

NGO Statement on Vaquita at the 65th Meeting of the International Whaling Commission

The below signed NGOs express their deep concern regarding the critically endangered vaquita.

The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) could be extinct by 2018 unless all gillnets are eliminated from its range and the illegal fishery and trade of totoaba are ended. The vaquita has the most limited geographic range of any marine cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise); the entire species inhabits the northernmost Gulf of California. It is the smallest – and the most endangered – cetacean species in the world. Read More

Aboriginal Subsistence Hunting

By | Ocean Alliance News, oct14, Roger Payne | No Comments

A Voice From the Sea

Roger Payne

Sept 11, 2014

An aboriginal subsistence quota for whaling is only supportable as a category if it is reserved for people who truly do subsist by hunting whales. The trouble is that it is largely used by corrupt claimants in notoriously crooked ways. Most outrageous is the aboriginal subsistence quota that the Russians have gotten in Kamchatka for their “aboriginal subsistence hunt” of gray whales (and that Paul Watson so memorably exposed when he invaded the Soviet Union and filmed frozen whale meat being used to feed mink and sable that were living in captive breeding cages on a soviet fur farm). The catcher boat used by the Soviets to kill those gray whales was a modern vessel and no true aboriginals feasted on the spoils of that hunt. Read More

Returning to Whale Camp

By | Ocean Alliance News, Southern Right Whale Program | No Comments

BLOG 1 – 3 September 2014

Greetings from Patagonia! We are just starting the 44th field research season of the Right Whale Program at Península Valdés, Argentina. Diego Taboada, José Carracedo and I drove from Buenos Aires down to Patagonia. The 17-hour drive took us from the great city to the isolated beauty of Whale Camp, the research station on the shores of Golfo San José. Not only were the whales waiting for us… an amazing group of young guanacos also greeted us at night! A very beautiful sight. Read More

A Meeting of the Ocean Minds in NYC

By | Ocean Alliance News, oct14 | No Comments

Ocean conservation leaders met up in New York City this week to collaborate on solutions for the problems facing our oceans. Ocean Alliance President Roger Payne and CEO Iain Kerr were invited by Parley for the Oceans to join scientists, activists and artists, including music producer Pharrell Williams, legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle, NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, and Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, to talk about our work studying the effects of pollutants on whales. Read More

New Video: Drones for Whale Research

By | aug14, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

Our Robotics Program is in the running for a $10K grant called the Drone Social Innovation Award. Our video entry was created by Eliza Muirhead with footage from Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 and features Odyssey crew and Olin College robotics students testing newly-developed benign research techniques. The more views and “Likes” on YouTube the better, so enjoy and feel free to share!

A New Addition to Our Research Programs

By | aug14, Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

Last Saturday night a sailboat called Sabatico quietly sailed into Gloucester harbor and anchored off Eastern Point.  This 44ft ketch is Ocean Alliance’s latest addition to our research programs.

In May of this year, while the RV Odyssey was hauled out of the water in Key West, Florida, we met a gentleman called D.M. Barry.  Mr. Barry had just returned from a trip to Mexico aboard his 44 ft Pearson ketch Sabatico.  He was curious as to what work this large red sailboat with people swarming all over it was engaged in.  He first met Dan Albani on the docks who talked to him about our work and then he got into an extensive conversation with Dan Haefner.  Both Dans suggested to Mr. Barry that Ocean Alliance could put his vessel to good use and both were as surprised as I was when he called me up three weeks later and offered to donate his sailboat to Ocean Alliance.

Iain Kerr on WhaleSongI have enjoyed my conversations with Mr. Barry enormously; he has had a varied and interesting career, he loves the wild world, and seems to grab life and enjoy the ride.  An entrepreneur, pilot and boat captain, Mr. Barry now lives in Montana.  He has been saddened by the fact that he could not do all that he used to do at sea as a younger man and felt that this was a good time to follow a different route than full-time boat ownership.  We welcome him as a new member of the Ocean Alliance family and look forward to him visiting us in New England and seeing the Sabatico put to work as a research vessel.

This type of generous offer is always a bit of a catch 22 for a group like Ocean Alliance. This donation will probably cost us $20,000 in the first year with insurance, maintenance, upgrades, upkeep and crew, but while we do not have that amount of money lying around, the timing of this donation could not have been better and we are very grateful for Mr. Barry’s incredible generosity.

WhaleSong steeringWith our move to the Gloucester waterfront we have been looking to engage in more regional cetacean studies.  With the loss of the Whale Center of New England, we feel that we can not only help to fill this hole but also bring an extensive whale research skillset to the region and support the work of other researchers in this area more effectively (especially with a platform like Sabatico).  In our business, this donation not only demonstrates the value of just asking for help but also reminds us that there are still generous people like Mr. Barry who are willing to step up to the plate and put the environment before personal gain. Thank you again Michael!

We will keep you posted as we develop our research and education agenda, and in the meantime we have requested a name change to WhaleSong.

-Iain Kerr, Ocean Alliance CEO

Our Five Years in the Gulf Draws to a Close

By | Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

This week marks the end of Operation Toxic Gulf 2014, the fifth and final year of Ocean Alliance’s program assessing the health of the Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystem in a toxicological context through the bio-indicators that are sperm whales. It’s also the end of our second year working in partnership with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society–what is hopefully the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship from which the true winner will be the oceans, the life which inhabits them, and ultimately our own species. Sperm whales next to OdysseyCertainly much of the difficult work has been done, but we cannot forget the hard road ahead of us–the analysis of the data accumulated over the five years of study. When all is done, we should have a comprehensive picture of how the toxicants released into the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil blow-out affect the long-term health of marine mammals and hopefully the marine ecosystem, how we can go about protecting it, and how future toxicological catastrophes might better be contained. The next step is to raise the funds for this expensive yet incredibly important data analysis. In the meantime, we have learnt much. The analysis done so far has shown worrying signs. In particular, we have found that concentrations of chromium and nickel in Gulf of Mexico sperm whales are significantly higher than those that we found in whales in other parts of the world, and the dispersant used in the Deepwater Horizon disaster has been found to cause DNA damage and cell death in sperm whale cells at low doses. Marc Rosenberg on OdysseyPerhaps the most important thing is that each and every person who has crewed on the Odyssey in the Gulf has left with a profound sense of purpose about what we are doing and why this type of ocean conservation program is important–not only for the Gulf of Mexico but for the whole world, for the Gulf truly is a microcosm for wider ocean systems. The majesty, beauty, and fragile nature of the Gulf and the extraordinary animals which inhabit it, combined with the ever present and increasingly heavy footprint of man in the shape of the oil rigs, container ships, run-off from the Mississippi and the innumerable and inescapable plastic and visible trash constantly remind us of our connection to our incredible planet and how its fate is inextricably linked to our own. Over the past five years we have accumulated too many thank-you’s to name. Probably over 100 people have crewed these expeditions, with boundless shore support, donors, marina owners, dock-masters, relatives and well-wishers providing support without which the campaigns would not have been possible. On behalf of the crew, let us just say a quick thank you to a few select individuals: to Captain Bob Wallace, the only ever-present who has led the campaigns from the front line and who has kept both crew and boat working efficiently and safely; to the Wise family, who dedicated three entire summers and many hundreds of hours in the laboratory to this program (and more to go); to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society & volunteers, who made the final two seasons possible; and finally to Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr who has, quite literally, run this show (whilst running Ocean Alliance at the same time…). Thank You! -Andy Rogan, Scientific Director for Operation Toxic Gulf 2014Odyssey in the Gulf drone photo

Saving the Best for Last: The Final Leg of Operation Toxic Gulf 2014

By | aug14, Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

With the final leg of Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 being the return of the RV Odyssey to her home port of Key West, FL., and with numerous crew members on tight schedules with flights to catch, there were always time limits on how much we could achieve along the way. As part of our schedule, we had only one full day on the traditional sites southwest of Pensacola where we normally search for whales. As any crewmember could tell you, one day is never enough.

There has been a consistent theme across these “Leg summaries,” all centered around how to describe the emotions when we find a whale against the odds. As before during this highly successful campaign, experience, patience and a vessel perfectly suited to finding and tracking whales proved a tough combination to beat. Sure enough, around midday on our first and only day in the traditional sperm whale habitat we had quiet clicks, then loud clicks, then blows, then a biopsy.

calf breachAs we tracked the whales–an adult female and a large juvenile, we were subjected to an extraordinary show, its rarity only exceeded by its spectacular nature. The juvenile whale performed two bouts of full breaching, each with 4-5 breaches, with the second bout occurring only 100 metres from the vessel. To see the massive hulking body of a sperm whale erupting from the waves in an explosion of muscle and foam was quite indescribable. How lucky we all are!

With these biopsies achieved, the Odyssey left the whale grounds overnight, heading for the continental shelf that runs parallel north-south with the west coast of Florida, approximately 100 miles off. In the past, as we go further south the likelihood of finding whales decreases, though we’d heard there supposedly exists a mysterious population of sperm whales northwest of the Dry Tortugas. After two nights and one day with no clicks, we regarded the chance of finding whales as increasingly unlikely as we ventured into waters further south than we have ever found whales before. Lo and behold, at 6 a.m. on the third day a lone whale seemed to come completely out of nowhere. Five minutes after being detected acoustically it was spotted, and half an hour later we added another biopsy to our data set.

Harry Milkman on watchLater on that afternoon, even further south, another set of clicks beamed through the boat. They seemed far too frequent and numerous to be bottlenose dolphins and as we got closer it became apparent that it was in fact a large group of whales!

As we headed even further south, well in to the afternoon another sound came over the array–clicking, but seemingly too numerous, too rapid, and too far south to be sperm whales. Large dolphins perhaps–Risso’s or bottlenose? As we got closer, something seemed amiss. The clicks, whilst very frequent, were too robust and steady for dolphins.

As it turned out, we had just run directly into the largest group of sperm whales we have encountered all summer–anywhere from 5-15 animals in a couple of square kilometres. It was almost certainly a group from the evasive population northwest of the Dry Tortugas. Five years of searching, and the final sperm whales to be encountered! The samples obtained on this last day are incredibly important, as the levels of toxicants within can be compared with those from the northern Gulf. Over five years we have now found whales from as far west as the Texas/Louisiana border, all along the continental shelf to the deep water northwest of the Dry Tortugas. Do the continuous, if sporadic, locations of whales along the shelf suggest that connections between these populations are more common than previously believed? Who knows, but this exciting discovery raises important questions that need answering.

As the day drew to a close with the sun’s light fading, our deadline for arrival in to Key West officially ending this campaign’s quest for biopsies, a sentimentality grew over the crew. In the backdrop of a magnificent sunset, the dinghy was put in the water to get some last photos of the Odyssey after a highly successful fifth and final season. As the dinghy sped around the Odyssey with the light fading fast, the shapes of some bottlenose dolphins became apparent bowriding the dinghy. A final farewell from those creatures we are striving to protect.

-Andy Rogan, Scientific Director for Operation Toxic Gulf 2014Odyssey Dinghy sunset

The RV Odyssey Returns to Key West

By | Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

This Sunday the RV Odyssey will return to port in Key West for the final time this summer, and the at-sea portion of Operation Toxic Gulf 2014, our joint campaign with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, will conclude. We have had five productive summers in in the Gulf of Mexico and the campaign is not over, just as the effects of this disaster are not over. We will continue our efforts on land (data analysis with the Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology) and Iain Kerr will be providing you with a campaign wrap-up and next steps in the coming days.

Thank you to all of our volunteer crew from around the world–what an amazing team we’ve had. Thanks for the hospitality from the locals in Key West and Pensacola; for the generosity of those who shipped in supplies and food from our wish list; and just as importantly–those who helped us spread the word in the press and social media about the ongoing crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.

Operation Toxic Gulf Crew with Roger PayneIf you would like to welcome back the Operation Toxic Gulf crew they will be arriving at Oceanside Marine, Stock Island Key West late Sunday night – so please stop by any day next week.

 

Cleaning Up Our Shoreline

By | Ocean Alliance News, Paint Factory Headquarters, Pollution | No Comments

Our friends from Sea Shepherd Boston were kind enough to join us this week for a shoreline clean-up of Horton Street in Gloucester, MA–home of Ocean Alliance. The rocks along our shoreline create a trap for fishing gear, water bottles, stryrofoam cups and other debris that needs to be collected every few months to prevent it from washing out to sea. It’s another example how organizations can accomplish more when they work together:

Read More

A Visit to a Cutting-Edge Robotics Lab

By | Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

Upon the completion of the robotics leg of Operation Toxic Gulf this week, our local crewmember Dan Haefner contacted the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC). It turns out that a couple of Olin College alumni work there and the Olin students working on board the RV Odyssey were invited for a tour of the facility. Later on that day staff members from IHMC came for a tour of the Odyssey. I had the good fortune to meet with a number of staff and I had great conversations with John Carff and Johnny Godowski. Amongst other things, John is into micro air vehicles and Johnny works on high-speed legged robotic systems. Read More

Can Drones Help Save Whales?

By | Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf, Technology | No Comments

I am writing this blog from the RV Odyssey 120 nautical miles out in the Gulf of Mexico on the final leg of Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Most of the day we are tracking whales acoustically (oh for a drone to help us find whales), but for part of every day on this leg we are conducting ship trials (at sea launch and recovery exercises) on a variety of drones. Read More

Our Right Whale Team to Present at IWC Meeting on Increased Calf Mortality

By | aug14, Ocean Alliance News, Southern Right Whale Program | No Comments

Researchers from our Southern Right Whale Program, our partners at Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas and the Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program will be presenting five abstracts (listed below) at an International Whaling Commission meeting that will be held on Aug 5-6, 2014 in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. Read More

Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 Campaign Update

By | aug14, Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

It’s been an extremely productive summer in the Gulf of Mexico with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society joining us on the RV Odyssey to study the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr describes what we’ve seen and learned in the Gulf this summer through multiple research techniques and tools, with new footage of the Operation Toxic Gulf crew at work:

Operation Toxic Gulf Video – Pantropical Spotted Dolphins

By | Education, Gulf of Mexico, Odyssey, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

We had some very high energy visitors to the RV Odyssey during Operation Toxic Gulf 2014–pantropical spotted dolphins riding our bow long enough that we could capture this video with our bowcam. These dolphins are 6 to 7 feet and are recognized by the dark “cape” on their backs. We can’t say for certain but they seem to be having a pretty good time:

You can also watch bowcam videos of sperm whales and Atlantic spotted dolphins.

Paint Factory Update: Work on Building A Begins

By | aug14, Ocean Alliance News, Paint Factory Headquarters | No Comments

There were originally six buildings on the Tarr and Wonson Paint Manufactory site, the new home of Ocean Alliance in Gloucester, MA. Buildings D and F were condemned by the city and were taken down (when we have raised the money they will be put back up with the original facade). Building E is finished and now houses our offices. The restoration of the chimney is complete so we are now focusing our efforts on what we call Buildings A and B (the two remaining brick buildings). Read More

New Video: The Science of Operation Toxic Gulf

By | aug14, Gulf of Mexico, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

In this new video from Operation Toxic Gulf 2014, Scientific Manager Andy Rogan explains the research goals of the campaign on the RV Odyssey in our fifth year following up on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, our second partnered with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Roger Payne joins the crew to help with the biopsy process:

A listing of scientific papers by the Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology from our Gulf expeditions so far can be seen here.

What We’ve Found So Far in the Gulf

By | Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

Sperm whales in Gulf of Mexico 2013Our main objective in the Gulf of Mexico is to obtain biopsy samples from sperm whales to determine how the Deepwater Horizon disaster is affecting these animals at the top of the food web. Each year since the spill we’ve collected approximately 50 sperm whale biopsies from the Gulf, the last two years thanks to support from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. From 2000-2005 the Voyage of the Odyssey collected biopsies from sperm whales around the world, so we’re able to compare the samples from the Gulf with the rest of our samples. So far, our partners at the Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology at the University of Southern Maine have published two studies in scientific journals from our Gulf sperm whale samples. They are:

Environmental Science and TechnologyConcentrations of the Genotoxic Metals, Chromium and Nickel, in Whales, Tar Balls, Oil Slicks, and Released Oil from the Gulf of Mexico in the Immediate Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Crisis: Is Genotoxic Metal Exposure Part of the Deepwater Horizon Legacy? (Environmental Science and Technology)

Aquatic ToxicologyChemical dispersants used in the Gulf of Mexico oil crisis are cytotoxic and genotoxic to sperm whale skin cells (Aquatic Toxicology)

In addition to these studies are the thousands of photos and the data collected that illustrate what an important habitat the Gulf of Mexico is for whales and dolphins. It is our goal to bring these animals to the forefront of people’s attention when they think of the Gulf, rather than the oil rigs that dot their landscape.

Meet the Crew – Eva Hidalgo Pla

By | Gulf of Mexico, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

Last winter Eva Hidalgo Pla collected data for Ocean Alliance on the M/Y Steve Irwin in the Southern Ocean during Operation Relentless, Sea Shepherd Australia’s ongoing campaign to protect whales from Japanese whalers. We are pleased that Eva has been able to join the RV Odyssey for her first Operation Toxic Gulf campaign this summer. In this new video Eva explains why long-term science is just as important as on-the-spot activism in protecting the wild world:

At the Top of the Restored Paint Factory Chimney

By | Ocean Alliance News, Paint Factory Headquarters | No Comments

The chimney of our headquarters, the historic Tarr and Wonson Paint Manufactory, has stood as as a beacon signaling home for Gloucester’s fishermen for over 130 years. In the fall of 2013 it was determined that the chimney structure was cracked and unsound, so the fundraising drive began to restore this icon of Gloucester’s waterfront. Thanks to the Citizens of Gloucester Community Preservation Act we were able to secure a grant to restore the chimney for generations to come. Masons from Numerosi Masonry of Gloucester have been hard at work high above the waterfront and recently Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr climbed up to take a look at the finished work and the view:

Watch a short history of the Paint Factory narrated by Roger Payne and Lisa Harrow here and learn how bottom paint for boats was invented.