Category

Gulf of Mexico

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

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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.

 

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

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

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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.

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

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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

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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:

The Acoustic World of Whales in the Gulf

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When the RV Odyssey embarked on her five-year journey The Voyage of the Odyssey from 2000-2005 to study the health of the world’s oceans, the first mate was a young naturalist the crew had met leading kayaking tours in Alaska named Josh Jones. Fourteen years later Josh finds himself back on the Odyssey, this time as a researcher from Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Acoustic Lab, with the task of training the Operation Toxic Gulf crew on the new acoustic gear that allows us to listen to and track whales. In this new video Josh explains the goal of his work listening to whales:

Are you Listening, Rex Tillerson?

By | Gulf of Mexico, july14, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf, Roger Payne | No Comments

A Message from Roger Payne on the RV Odyssey at the Deepwater Horizon Site:

July 14, 2014

Marc Rosenberg on the RV OdysseyThis evening we had a celebration over the fact that we got our 50th biopsy today. The goal from the start has been to get a minimum of 50 biopsies and with two more trips to go we anticipate that we’ll be well over that mark. We celebrated with a key lime pie made by Marc Rosenberg, our cook. It was all delicious: the pie, the sunset, the sense of accomplishment, the breeze, the billowy evening clouds. The celebration took place as we headed for our annual visit to the site of the Deepwater Horizon—the drilling platform where 11 people died during the 2010 BP oil blowout. Read More

Offshore Chaos in the Gulf (Part 2)

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Part two of Roger Payne’s blog from Operation Toxic Gulf 2014:

July 12, 2014

We are here to find out how those whales are reacting to the oil that got released during the oil blowout from Deepwater Horizon, and the dispersants that were sprayed on the oil to sink it out of sight (and out of mind) but that seem to be worse poisons than the oil itself. This is the fifth year of our research, and what we are already finding out is disturbing. Read More

Offshore Chaos in the Gulf by Roger Payne

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Ocean Alliance President Dr. Roger Payne is currently on the RV Odyssey in the Gulf of Mexico for Operation Toxic Gulf, our joint campaign with Sea Shepherd USA, to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the whales of the Gulf. Here he gives an account of the man-made world in which the Gulf wildlife must coexist:

Friday July 11, 2014

Roger Payne writing on the RV OdysseyI am writing this from 80 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico where you might safely imagine that so far from land there ought to be just us and the sperm whales in the perfectly mirror calm seas that have surrounded our boat Odyssey (Ocean Alliance’s research vessel) all day. However, what surrounds us way out here, so far from land, feels more like another major waterfront with traffic coming and going as it services a line of oil rigs that stretches like beads on a chain to the horizon.

There is only one rig in sight with a drilling tower on it so most of them must already be attached to successful wells that are producing oil and gas. Some of the rigs are flaring off clouds of burning gas… just throwing it away. If you or I bought enough gas to create a display like that in our back yards we’d be broke in a few hours. But what the hell, it’s the oil world here, where people are big, and oil is plentiful, and money and crude are flowing, so who gives a damn about that, or the future, or the planet, or whether we’re acidifying the seas, or little niceties like quality of life, or whether the rest of earth’s creatures can survive our ever-so-natural rapacity?

The rigs are massive, multi-story platforms mounted on top of up to four giant, vertical cylinders, tens of feet in diameter that provide the flotation to keep the multi-storied decks high above the biggest storm waves. At least that’s the idea; but who knows whether they will prove to be high enough to survive the waves of future global warming storms?

Oil rig in Gulf of MexicoThese stadium-sized structures are covered with lights of several colors, most are white but many are red and green. From a distance they look like rockets on launch pads awaiting a countdown, or like giant Christmas trees. You might assume that these ship-sized floating structures must be anchored to the bottom, and although many are, I suspect that in areas where the bottom is more than a mile down that some aren’t. In such deep water a technique called dynamic anchoring is sometimes used—I suppose that GPS signals are used now but years ago dynamic anchoring involved placing pingers around a rig that gave off loud, precisely timed pings. By measuring the elapsed time between the arrival at a microphone on the rig of the pings from several pingers a computer calculated how far the rig had drifted from directly above the well head and turned on motors to drive propellers that could swim the rig back to where it belonged. Dynamically anchored rigs dance around on a tiny imaginary dance floor that’s located a mile or more above the sea floor.

And far beneath us in this silver sea, the sperm whales move quietly, as they fossick about between the oil platforms that are the destinations for the myriad boats that attend them, as well as the sports fishing boats that would never come out this far unless the oil rig flotilla was present—but which do come out now because even though its a long trip, once you’ve covered the miles I guess it seems a lot like home, even though it’s way way out of sight of land. But the fishing’s better because there are fish that congregate beneath the rigs.

Sperm whale blow with oil rigTomorrow I will have more to say about why we’re here.

Cooking on the High Seas During Operation Toxic Gulf

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The Operation Toxic Gulf crew have been fed well since Marc Rosenberg arrived in Key West. A chef in England, Marc is volunteering his time to be a part of our joint campaign with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in the Gulf of Mexico and we’re lucky to have him (his food is amazing). In this video Marc talks about what has surprised him the most about working in the Gulf:

Operation Toxic Gulf Crew Biopsy Most Endangered Whale Species in Gulf of Mexico

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Andy Rogan, Scientific Manager:

I had been up the mast for around an hour and a half before something in the periphery of my vision caught my eye. I turned quickly, but whatever I saw had quickly disappeared beneath the waves. I continued looking in the general direction, quite far off of our port bow, and sure enough, a couple minutes later a large dark shape cut through the water heading straight at us! I couldn’t identify the species immediately. But what I did know was that I had never seen it before, and that it was special. Read More

New 1000-Pound Tar Mat Washes Up in Pensacola

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Guest Post by RV Odyssey First Mate Dan Haefner:

On the 20th of June, Pensacola was the recipient of yet another present from the Gulf of Mexico–a 1000-plus pound tar mat washed up in Fort Pickens National Park. Tar balls wash up pretty much everyday along the coast between Pensacola Beach and Ft. Pickens, but sometimes a large mat is uncovered by waves. Read More

Odyssey Bowcam Footage of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

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During Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 we hope to introduce you to the many species of cetaceans found in the Gulf of Mexico despite the myriad of environmental challenges such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, oil rigs, agricultural run-off, dead zones, shipping traffic noise and fishing debris. The Odyssey crew have encountered a wide variety of dolphin species in the Gulf, including these Atlantic spotted dolphins who came to enjoy a bowride. Our bowcam allows us to view animal behaviors underwater, so enjoy these dolphins in their natural habitat (the younger animals can be identified by their lack of spots):

To learn more about Atlantic spotted dolphins or to spend some time with them in the wild check out the Wild Dolphin Project run by our friend Dr. Denise Herzing.

An Extraordinary Odyssey Encounter in the Gulf of Mexico

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Leg 2 Part 2 by Scientific Manager of Operation Toxic Gulf Andy Rogan:

Dawn on June 18th broke, a last ditch effort for the leg to get more biopsies. And as we turned north to explore a new area a quite extraordinary day began with a familiar sound.

Watching a whale on FLIRA click. Not a whole series of clicks. Just one. There was a sperm whale out there somewhere, but it was some distance away. To find a sperm whale from just one click requires patience, vigilance experience and skill. And that is what was applied. One click turned into a short cluster of clicks. The boat headed in the estimate direction of the whale, regularly stopping to reduce interference from the engines on the hydrophone. The clicks became louder, clearer. Eventually a quiet yet steady train of clicks visualized across the computer screen. One train of clicks turned in to two trains of clicks. Two trains of clicks=two whales. A few hours after the initial click, an array of dotted lines littered the screen in front of us. Read More

The First Sperm Whale Encounter of Operation Toxic Gulf 2014

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Guest Post by Odyssey Scientific Manager Andy Rogan:

Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 Leg 2, Part 1

The second leg of our Operation Toxic Gulf campaign was quite extraordinary. When I decided to write a blog about the leg it quickly became apparent that I could not justify cramming it all into one entry, and so it was split into two. This blog documents the first half of the leg. Read More

Operation Toxic Gulf 2014: The Launch

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Operation Toxic Gulf 2014, our joint campaign with Sea Shepherd USA, is in full swing in the Gulf of Mexico so we wanted to introduce you to the program, the crew and the Odyssey. This new video features footage from the first leg of the campaign, from the launch in Key West to our first sperm whale encounter of the campaign. Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr explains our decision to return to the Gulf for a fifth summer to study the impacts of Deepwater Horizon disaster:

Biopsies! Why?

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A Special Guest Post by Ocean Alliance President and Founder Dr. Roger Payne:

Between 2000 and 2005 Ocean Alliance ran The Voyage of the Odyssey, a research expedition that circumnavigaged the globe measuring background levels in sperm whales of a series of contaminants. We came back with over 900 samples from sperm whales which we had analyzed for a suite of contaminants. The worst offending molecules turned out to be toxic metals—not just mercury and lead but Chromium, Aluminum, Silver and several other highly toxic metals. Read More

Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 Launches Today

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A special announcement from Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr:

The Research Vessel Odyssey heads back into the Gulf of Mexico for a fifth season today.

I’ve spent the last two weeks with a remarkable international crew aboard the Odyssey prepping for our fifth summer of data and sample collection in the Gulf of Mexico—our joint campaign with Sea Shepherd Conservation SocietyOperation Toxic Gulf .  The crew represent six countries: Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Holland, Spain and the USA. Read More

First-Ever Paper on the Toxicity of Chemical Dispersants in Whales Comes from Our Gulf Expeditions

By | Gulf of Mexico, jun14, Ocean Alliance News, Pollution, Whales | No Comments

In 2010 the RV Odyssey headed to the Gulf of Mexico with a team from Ocean Alliance and our partners at the Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology at the University of Southern Maine. The Deepwater Horizon well had been capped, but the Gulf wildlife and people were now challenged with coping with the oil and dispersants that remained. Our specific concern was the potential effects of this disaster on the population of sperm whales living in the Gulf in the deep water where the disaster occurred, and having sampled hundreds of sperm whales around the world during the Voyage of the Odyssey 2000-2005 we were well-equipped and trained to track and sample sperm whales in the Gulf. Our global data set gave us a unique opportunity to put what we found in the Gulf into a global context. We’ve been back every year since the disaster and this week those expeditions have produced a new study. Read More

NWF Releases Gulf of Mexico Report Featuring Our Work with Sperm Whales

By | apr14, Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Voyage of the Odyssey | No Comments

Odyssey with oil rigOcean Alliance has spent the last four summers in the Gulf of Mexico studying the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on sperm whales with our partners—the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Now as BP declares that “active cleanup” has been concluded, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has released a report compiling study after study showing that the Gulf is far from healthy. Read More

New Bowcam Footage of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico

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We continue to review hundreds of hours of bow cam footage from Operation Toxic Gulf, our 2013 joint campaign with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in the Gulf of Mexico following up on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. So far we’ve shared melon-headed whales and rough-toothed dolphins, sperm whales, and now Atlantic spotted dolphins enjoying a calm clear day. Iain Kerr narrates:

A Recording of Sperm Whale Sounds in the Gulf of Mexico

By | Gulf of Mexico, mar14, Odyssey, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

A word from Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr about one of his favorite subjects–sperm whales, and their sounds:

Sperm whale in Gulf of MexicoWe will often acoustically track sperm whales through the night in fair weather or foul in the hope that we’ll be with the whales when the sun rises and can spend the whole day working with them. When they do go quiet, it’s often in the one or two hours before dawn, and if we can’t hear them we can’t track them. Nothing is more frustrating than tracking them all night and then losing them in the hour before the sun rises. You don’t want to be the one on that watch.

This recording was made by Odyssey crew member Rik Walker on a good day in the Gulf of Mexico during Operation Toxic Gulf 2013:

All whales make sounds. The toothed whales tend to make sounds for echolocation purposes and it is now thought that many of the baleen whales do as well. Humpback whales are best known for their long complex often haunting sounds. The largest toothed predator on this planet is the sperm whale and this is a species Ocean Alliance has studied all over the world. Their position at the top of the oceans’ food web makes them a great bio-indicator for the health of the oceans. Sperm whales are relatively easy to track using a line of towed underwtater microphones (hydrophones). The arrival time of sounds at the different hydrophones can give us a bearing and often a range to the animal. In this particular recording there is one primary whale and at least two or three others in the background. Our belief is that these sounds are likely the animal searching and zeroing in on prey. As I listen to these sounds I can’t but wonder what is going on in the abyss.

 

Concentrations of Chromium and Nickel in Gulf of Mexico Sperm Whales Significantly Higher than Those Found in Whales Collected Around the World Prior to Spill

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

Odyssey with sperm whale in the GulfIn 2010 the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico riveted the world with images of gushing oil in amounts hardly imaginable. Once the oil well was capped the press all but disappeared from the Gulf but the disaster remained. Iain Kerr, Roger Payne and our research partner Dr. John Wise from the University of Southern Maine, decided that this was where Ocean Alliance’s research vessel Odyssey needed to be to find out if and what damage the oil and dispersants were causing to the whales of the Gulf. That summer the Odyssey, staffed by a scientific team from USM including Dr. Wise, traveled from Gloucester to the site of the spill to collect what opportunistic data we could, including biopsy skin and blubber samples from sperm whales and we’ve returned every summer since.

Environmental Science and TechnologyThis week the Wise Laboratory announced the publication of a new paper in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology. The paper focuses not on the oil or dispersants, but on the genotoxic metals found in the Gulf oil – specifically chromium and nickel.  The Wise Laboratory has been our principle partner analyzing samples taken from sperm whales for over 10 years now.  They have conducted much of the toxicological analysis from  our global Voyage of the Odyssey that ran between 2000-2005.  Previous analysis by the Wise Laboratory has found that metals cause DNA damage and bioaccumulate in the tissues of whales. Using our sperm whale global data set the Wise team have been able to determine that samples taken in the Gulf were “significantly higher” in these metals than samples taken in other parts of the world.

Over the last 15 years Ocean Alliance has been collecting data on ocean pollution;  this gives us the capacity to take what we learn from locations such a as the Gulf of Mexico and put that data into a global context.  Many people dedicated time and money not only to the Gulf expeditions but also to the Voyage of the Odyssey and we are very grateful to everyone who has made this work and this publication possible.

Odyssey Gulf of Mexico Sunset

 

 

 

How We Biopsy Sperm Whales

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Here is a look at the science we do on board the RV Odyssey in the Gulf of Mexico. This film was made in 2010 with the team from the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine just after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Alas the weather is not always this nice nor are the whales this abundant but you get to see how we approach sperm whales and collect a small biopsy of skin and blubber for toxicological analysis and the development of cell lines. This is work is conducted under National Marine Fisheries permit number 13545. Read More

Iain Kerr Reports from the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Conference

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This post comes from Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr in the snowy Gulf of Mexico:

John Wise and Iain KerrIt was a very full few days here at the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Conference.  Over 800 dedicated people.  If there is any good news coming out of the BP disaster it is the increased interest in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.   Part of what drives me is to try to get people to appreciate that we live on planet Ocean not planet Earth.  The largest mediating force on this planet is our oceans, not our land masses. Alas the oceans are downhill from everything and as a consequence are becoming humanity’s sewer. Read More

Questions Raised at Gulf Oil Spill Conference

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Iain Kerr at Gulf Oil Spill ConferenceOcean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr and Dr. John Wise from the Wise Laboratory are currently in Mobile, Alabama at the Gulf Oil Spill and Ecosystem Conference, presenting their findings on the effects of dispersants on sperm whales in the Gulf.

In addition to presentations there are also daily discussion groups for members. Sunday’s discussion was as follows:

Setting the Record Straight: Debunking Myths and Misconceptions about Oil in the Gulf and Promoting Ocean Literacy

  • How does the 2010 Gulf oil spill, and its subsequent impacts, compare to other spills?
  • How and where did the oil move?
  • What happened to the oil?
  • How does the amount of oil leaked from Deepwater Horizon compare to natural and other releases of oil in the Gulf?
  • What is the impact of oil spills on organisms that live in the water, including those that we eat?
  • How do they clean an oil spill and can it ever be totally cleaned up?
  • What’s going to happen next time there is an oil spill?

The conference continues until Thursday and Iain will bring back as much information as he can to share.

Ocean Alliance and the Wise Laboratory at Gulf Oil Spill Conference in Mobile

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Screen Shot 2014-01-25 at 10.14.53 AM
Today Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr is traveling to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Conference in Mobile, Alabama with Dr. John Wise and team from the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine. They will be presenting findings from our work in the Gulf beginning in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, specifically on the effects of chemical dispersants on the sperm whales of the Gulf. Read More

Operation Toxic Gulf Video Highlights

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Last summer was our fourth expedition in the Gulf of Mexico following up on the BP Oil Spill and we hope to return again this year. This month Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr and Dr. John Wise of the University of Southern Maine will travel to Mobile, Alabama to present findings at the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Conference, but there’s more data to gather.

Here’s a look at some highlights of living aboard the RV Odyssey during Operation Toxic Gulf:

BP OIL SPILL LINKED TO LUNG DAMAGE IN DOLPHINS

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

Dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico - Photo by Eliza MuirheadThis week the news spread around the world that a study is linking a  lung disease found in some dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico to the BP Oil Spill in 2010. The NOAA-led study was published on Dec. 18, 2013 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. BP is disputing the results, read the full story here.

Ocean Alliance is currently working to raise funds to return to the Gulf next summer for our fifth year following up on the disaster. Read about our research in the Gulf  and this year’s Operation Toxic Gulf partnership with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

 

BP OIL SPILL DISASTER RESPONSE – OPERATION TOXIC GULF FIELD REPORT 2013

By | Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Odyssey, Operation Toxic Gulf, Sea Shepherd, Sperm Whales, Whales | No Comments

Ocean Alliance in the GulfThe following is a summary of goals and accomplishments for the 2013 collaborative research expedition Operation Toxic Gulf carried out by Sea Shepherd Global and Ocean Alliance in the Gulf of Mexico (USA) aboard the Research Vessel Odyssey. While we continue to work closely with our scientific partner the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine, this year our campaign partner was Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Global. Read More

OPERATION TOXIC GULF 2013 – THE LAST WORD

By | Gulf of Mexico, News from the Gulf, Ocean Alliance News, Odyssey, Operation Toxic Gulf, Sea Shepherd, Whales | No Comments

This video is a final update from the 2013 campaign onboard the RV Odyssey and features Paul Watson, Dr. Roger Payne and Dr. Iain Kerr. Operation Toxic Gulf is a collaborative campaign between Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Ocean Alliance.

vidgrabs

Sperm whale diveThis campaign has focused on Gulf sperm whales because they are at the top of the Gulf’s food chain and, as such, they can act as a bio-indicator of the health of the entire ecosystem. Ocean Alliance, its scientific partners and Sea Shepherd will be able to put any discoveries they make in the Gulf into a global context due to the fact that from 2000 to 2005 the RV Odyssey circumnavigated the globe collecting baseline data on the levels of pollutants and metals in sperm whales.

We hope to return to the Gulf in 2014 so this winter we will be fundraising and working with our scientific partners to analyze the data that we and the Wise Laboratory team have collected in the Gulf over the last four years.  Since we are looking at the chronic effects as against the short-term effects of this disaster this analysis will take years.

Your support makes this all possible.  Please bookmark our website, like us on Facebook and any financial support helps us move forward with research, education and capital investment.  From the crew of Ocean Alliance, we thank you!

Read our blog posts from the Gulf of Mexico

FOR THE WHALES – A FINAL CREW BLOG FROM OPERATION TOXIC GULF

By | Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Odyssey, Operation Toxic Gulf, Sea Shepherd, Whales | No Comments

Iain KerrThis spring I was deeply concerned that Ocean Alliance would not be able to return to the Gulf of Mexico to continue the work Dr. John Wise and I started in 2010 looking at the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on marine mammals.  Around that time I was talking with my good friend Alex Cornelissen (Shepherd Global Executive Officer) about another mutual concern and the Gulf came up in discussion.  Less than a month later Alex told me that we would be returning to the Gulf with the full support of Sea Shepherd Global and so Operation Toxic Gulf was born. Read More

SECOND T-SHIRT AUCTION

By | Gulf of Mexico, Odyssey, Operation Toxic Gulf, Sea Shepherd | No Comments

tshirtauctionHere’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to help the whales and own a campaign shirt that is signed by Dr. Roger Payne, Erwin Vermeulen and Hillary Watson of Sea Shepherd and “Whale Wars,” and the Odyssey crew. Help a great cause and get a cool shirt. 2 XL shirts available, each auctioned separately. Place your bid for shirt #2 in the single thread on www.facebook.com/oceanalliance in $5 increments beginning with $25. Auction ends at 8:00 pm EST on Friday August 16th when the winner will be announced. Good luck!!

MEET THE CREW – LAUREN PAAP

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

As the RV Odyssey battles 6 foot seas on its homeward passage to Key West this weekend we’d like to share the very last “Meet The Crew” video for Operation Toxic Gulf…

Introducing Lauren Paap, Ocean Alliance crew member aboard the Odyssey. Over the past year Lauren has been from Gloucester to Tahiti, and Operation Toxic Gulf will be her third campaign. Lauren is a Dutch-American who calls Boston home. Aboard the RV Odyssey she fills the role of marine coordinator, visiting galley cook (when others are too seasick to work) and all-around wonder woman – spending more time up the mast spotting whales than the other crew combined.

THE FINAL LEG OF OPERATION TOXIC GULF

By | Gulf of Mexico, Odyssey, Operation Toxic Gulf, Sea Shepherd | No Comments

Sunset from the porthole of the RV Odyssey…

Last night the crew on the RV Odyssey sailed out of the port of Pensacola for their final leg of the research phase for Operation Toxic Gulf. They would like to extend a huge THANK YOU to the Gulf Coast states that have hosted them over the summer and especially to the locals in Pensacola who have shown enormous support for their work.

Over the next week they look forward to sharing with you the last couple of Meet The Crew videos and some more photos from their voyage, stand by…