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!
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
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.
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:
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.
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:
A Message from Roger Payne on the RV Odyssey at the Deepwater Horizon Site:
July 14, 2014
This 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
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
I 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?
These 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.
The RV Odyssey is equipped with a video camera in the bow which allows us to observe the behaviors of the animals we study and capture some great footage. We’ve seen many different species during Operation Toxic Gulf 2014, but the focus of our work is the sperm whale–the largest toothed predator on Earth. Read More
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
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.
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.
A 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
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, 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:
You can be a part of Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 by supporting the crew through their Wishlist on Amazon. From food to gear to sunscreen, the crew needs provisions throughout the summer as they study the effects of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Work on the Odyssey continues twenty-four hours a day with watches throughout the night—that’s a lot of coffee (and tea for the Brits)!
The crew thanks you for your support!
The RV Odyssey has departed from Key West, Florida, and for this first leg of Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 the Odyssey is following the drop-off of the South Florida Continental Shelf where the depth goes from a few hundred feet to a few miles deep. These drop-offs are very biologically-productive areas, and as our goal is to find and sample sperm whales this is where we need to be. Read More
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 Society—Operation Toxic Gulf . The crew represent six countries: Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Holland, Spain and the USA. Read More
We track whales using a piece of equipment called an acoustic array. This is a line of underwater microphones called hydrophones that we drag behind the RV Odyssey to give us a bearing and approximate range to animals night and day, good and bad weather. The best-case scenario for us is to be with a group of whales when the sun rises so that we can work with them all day. Read More
At Ocean Alliance we are always looking for new ways to find and track marine mammals, by day and night. Currently, for at least twelve hours a day we’re shut down, but a new technology could open up a whole new realm of studying whales at night. Read More
Ocean 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
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:
Odyssey crew member Rik Walker does the opposite of most northerners–he spends the winters in Vermont and his summers in the Gulf of Mexico. Rik is our chief biopsy taker on the Odyssey, which means he’s a great shot to be able to get a biopsy from a moving sperm whale on a moving boat, but it also means he’s willing to work through the often rough conditions of the Gulf. Rik took this video in the summer of 2013. Try to imagine working, eating, cooking and sleeping in these conditions:
A word from Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr about one of his favorite subjects–sperm whales, and their sounds:
We 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.
In 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.
This 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.
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
This post comes from Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr in the snowy Gulf of Mexico:
It 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
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:
From 2000 to 2005 Ocean Alliance sent the research vessel Odyssey around the world. We collected literally mountains of data, taking skin and blubber biopsies from sperm whales that we continue analyze. Just last month our scientific partners at the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine published a paper based on this data: “A Global Assessment of Oceanic Lead Pollution using Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus) as an Indicator Species.” Read More
Reviewing footage from the Odyssey bowcam is kind of like opening gifts on your birthday. You never know what you’re going to get. Read More
As the President and founder of Ocean Alliance, Dr. Roger Payne has been a spokesperson for whales for most of his life. But he wants you to know that it’s not the obvious threats to whales — commercial whaling and ship strikes that will lead to their extinction, it’s pollution. Read More
The 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
The RV Odyssey is preparing to leave on October 29th for a 21-day bioacoustic research trip into the Gulf of Mexico with a team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography under the direction of Dr. John Hildebrand.
The Odyssey and crew will be working in familiar territory, they will be running down the deep water drop-off in the Gulf of Mexico where they have been working the last 4 summers in response to the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010.
The Scripps team will be deploying HARPS – acoustic monitoring devices on the floor of the ocean. They will also be picking up HARPS that the Odyssey deployed almost 10 months ago.
“I am interested in how sound is used by marine mammals and how sound can be used as a tool for assessment of marine mammal populations. Recent advancements in acoustic recording technology have allowed long-term and broad-band records of underwater sound to be collected. These recordings open new windows into the behavior and distribution of marine mammals (as well as other marine organisms such as fish).” -Dr. John Hildebrand
Photo 1. 4 large containers of equipment arrive at the Odyssey in Key West
Photo 2. Crew manhandling weights aboard Odyssey. 50 pound weights are used to drop acoustic packs to the sea floor. 80 are loaded aboard Odyssey – 4,000 pounds or 2 tons
Photo 3. Acoustic gear being loaded aboard Odyssey.
In this log from the Voyage of the Odyssey Genevieve Johnson wrote about the attempt to pin the cause of dwindling fish stocks on whales.
Dr. Seiji Ohsumi, Director of the Cetacean Research Institute (ICR), Japan’s major institute for whale studies, co-authored a paper entitled Estimation of total food consumption by cetaceans in the world’s oceans. This often quoted “scientific” source received no peer review. (How do I know this? Because if it had, it would have been torn to pieces by other scientists.) Nonetheless, it’s used as the “scientific” rationale for a new diplomatic offensive Japan is mounting which attempts to make the world regard whales as greedy competitors to humans for fish from the sea. On November 17, 2000, Dr Ohsumi said that the need for Japan to carry out “scientific” whaling was because:
- “Until recently, the question of ‘what and how much whales are eating’ has not been taken up as a subject for discussion, but we find it now necessary to deal with the issue.”
This is spectacular nonsense (I think that’s the appropriate technical term). Read More
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.
This 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
This 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
Here’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!!
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.
RV Odyssey Captain Bob Wallace has been with Ocean Alliance for over 20 years, has circumnavigated the globe three times, and has more whale stories than all the crew combined. In this video he shares the reasons why he does it.
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…
Introducing Hillary Watson, the cook aboard the RV Odyssey for Operation Toxic Gulf. Animal activism runs in the family – Hillary’s uncle is Sea Shepherd founder, Captain Paul Watson.
This Sunday, August 4, Open Books will host the final presentation of the summer from the Operation Toxic Gulf crew, who are currently wrapping up the last leg of their 2013 study. Representatives from Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will present photographs and results of their work at the event, which begins at 7 p.m.
On Monday, August 5, the Ocean Alliance-Sea Shepherd team will open their boat, the Research Vessel Odyssey, for tours from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Palafox Marina. This will be the third and final time the public will be able to check out the ship. Like Sunday’s presentation, the ship tours are free, but donations are accepted. Read More
While you wait patiently for news of season six of “Whale Wars,” the Sea Shepherd crew continue to work for the oceans…
When the Antarctic whaling season ends, this is how a Sea Shepherd spends their summer break. Here’s an update from Erwin Vermeulen, veteran Sea Shepherd crew member, featured in Season 3 of Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars” and “Viking Shores,” while he spends the summer in the Gulf of Mexico as an Ocean Alliance partner on the RV Odyssey, defending sperm whales from one of their biggest threats: ocean pollution.[sws_divider_padding]
MEET THE CREW ABOARD OPERATION TOXIC GULF – DR. ROGER PAYNE!
This video is the first of a series that we will be sharing with you over the next couple of weeks introducing the crew members of Operation Toxic Gulf.
In this video you will meet Dr. Roger Payne; a very special crew member indeed. Dr. Roger Payne is a world renowned whale scientist, the Founder and President of Ocean Alliance and an old friend of Sea Shepherd Founder, Paul Watson. Dr. Payne was onboard for the second leg of campaign and the crew counted themselves lucky to have such an accomplished biologist and inspiring presence among their ranks.
-Eliza Muirhead, Sea Shepherd Australia