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Operation Toxic Gulf Archives | Ocean Alliance

“Thank you, FLIR!” from OA Scientific Coordinator Andy Rogan

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

During the summer of 2014, whilst studying the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to the FLIR Corporation we had the opportunity to test a night vision (Infrared) system aboard our research vessel Odyssey.

How these cameras work is complex, involving the range of light which they detect. Whilst not technically accurate, they essentially detect heat. This means that they are commonly used in night vision applications as they do not require the same visible light which allows us to see the world around us. Since they display an image based on temperature differentials they actually have daytime and night-time uses.

At Ocean Alliance we are always looking for new tools and technologies which might help us better understand whales. One problem with studying whales (and indeed many animals) is that we do not have a good understanding of what they do at night, simply because we cannot see them. Are they searching for and eating food? Are they mating? Socialising? Resting? Does their behaviour even change much during a day/night cycle? Whales are acoustic animals, which means sound is very important in their everyday lives. By listening to them (via an underwater microphone or hydrophone) we can gain a better understanding of where they are and what they might be doing at night and during the day. But it often leaves us with a very incomplete picture.

This is where infrared cameras & the FLIR Corporation come in. FLIR is the world leader in the design, manufacture and marketing of thermal imaging infrared cameras. FLIR cameras are used for many military, commercial and recreational activities. The value of FLIR systems in search & rescue and disaster situations is incalculable. New products to the market include the FLIR One that fits on the back of an iPhone and the FLIR Vue which fits on a drone.

As you can see from the attached video, this technology is a game changer enabling us to study whales at night. Indeed you can often see where the whales have been simply by the wake and the footprint which they leave. When we did test studies on our vessel, the camera was so powerful that it could see where we had been standing because our feet had left residual heat on the deck! We even observed Sperm whales breaching at night, something which likely has never been seen before (sadly the only footage we have of this event was taken on a smart phone looking at the video display).

For us this is all very exciting, and leads to many possibilities. Along with our interest in new technologies we are very excited about our ‘SnotBot’ program, which is all about developing drones for whale research (you can read more about it here). In the future we will be merging these two technologies, mounting a FLIR Vue camera on SnotBot!

We also think that this tool has enormous potential for other industries which might come in to contact with whales. Ship strikes are a major threat to whales all around the world. If we could fit vessels with FLIR cameras which could detect whales at night, we could potentially stop many needless whale deaths. Oil and gas companies use seismic airguns when searching for hydrocarbon deposits beneath the seabed. These airguns are incredibly loud and potential harmful to whales. If they had FLIR camera they would have a better idea of whether there were any whales in the vicinity at night. These are just two examples of how FLIR cameras could help protect whales.

Many, many thanks must go to the FLIR Corporation for being an innovator in this field and for lending us this remarkable piece of equipment.

Andy Rogan is Ocean Alliance Scientific Coordinator.

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

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

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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!

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!

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.

 

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

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.

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.

The Acoustic World of Whales in the Gulf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Payne and Iain Kerr Speak at Sea Shepherd Summit

By | july14, Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne, Sea Shepherd | No Comments

Guest Post by Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr:

What a remarkable weekend in Vermont at the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society International Summit. Sea Shepherd staff, volunteers, consultants and friends from around the world gathered to review past, current and future projects.

Roger Payne Speaking at Sea Shepherd SummitDr. Roger Payne and I were invited to attend the conference to speak about the work we’re doing with Sea Shepherd on Operation Toxic Gulf. We had the privilege to meet and speak with a huge variety of people, from Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson to the newest volunteers. We were really impressed by the dedication and energy we encountered across the board. It was exciting to see how interested everyone was in the science that we are doing and the potential for future collaborations.

Highlights for me were a compilation video that documented much of Paul’s life, and meeting program managers such as Gary Stokes from Hong Kong who has helped to expose the shark finning trade, Jeff Hansen of Sea Shepherd Australia, and Captain Peter Hammarstedt of the Bob Barker (as seen in “Whale Wars”).  It was nice to see Susan Hartland of Sea Shepherd USA and Alex Cornelissen of Sea Shepherd Global. Our good friend Cyrill Gutsch of Parley for the Oceans and Tim Coombs from Bionic Yarn also gave a powerful presentation about the “cradle to cradle” philosophy.

I like it when we can identify a problem, look for solutions, and help educate the public to bring about change and I found this philosophy very prevalent at the conference.

Sea Shepherd Summit from drone(Pictured at top: Alex Cornelissen, Peter Hammarstedt, Roger Payne, Susan Hartland, Paul Watson, Iain Kerr, Jeff Hansen; Photo by Eliza Muirhead. Group photo from drone by Iain Kerr)

Operation Toxic Gulf 2014: The Launch

By | Gulf of Mexico, jun14, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

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:

Meet the Crew – Marc Rosenberg

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Marc Rosenberg is a professional chef and Sea Shepherd volunteer from London. Here he recounts what it’s like to jump into an off-shore campaign for the first time:

April 10th 2014 I received an email from Peter Hammarstedt asking if I’d be interested in joining the Sea Shepherd and Ocean Alliance Operation Toxic Gulf as my first Sea Shepherd campaign. Without hesitation I answered… Yes. Read More

Biopsies! Why?

By | Education, Gulf of Mexico, Operation Toxic Gulf, Roger Payne | No Comments

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

Support the Operation Toxic Gulf Crew with Amazon Wishlist

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

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!

Follow the Odyssey During Operation Toxic Gulf

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

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

Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 Launches Today

By | Gulf of Mexico, jun14, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

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

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

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

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:

New Video–RV Odyssey in Rough Seas During Operation Toxic Gulf

By | Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf, Weather | No Comments
Rik Walker (pictured center)

Rik Walker (pictured center)

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 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.

 

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

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

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

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

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:

OCEAN ALLIANCE PRESENTING DISPERSANT STUDY AT GULF CONFERENCE

By | jan14, News from the Gulf, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

 

A Guest Post by Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr:

Odyssey with oil rigOcean Alliance collects data that we hope will be used to affect change. Since the mid-eighties the Japanese and other groups have claimed they are killing whales to collect scientific data. To counter this Roger Payne proved through the development of benign research techniques that you don’t have to kill a whale to understand it biologically. Over the last four years we’ve been working in the Gulf of Mexico looking at the effects on marine mammals of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. In this case we are worried that the cure (the massive use of dispersants) was potentially worse than the illness. Read More

“WHALE WARS” CREW TO COLLECT DATA FOR OA IN ANTARCTIC WATERS

By | jan14, Ocean Alliance News, Sea Shepherd Australia | No Comments

Sea Shepherd fleet - photo by Iain KerrAt this moment a fleet of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Australia vessels are heading to the Southern Ocean to prevent Japanese whalers from killing and processing whales. For 10 years Sea Shepherd vessels have run annual campaigns in Antarctic waters; in the last few years these campaigns have been documented in the Animal Planet series “Whale Wars,” but this year they have a new objective to add to their campaign. Read More

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.

 

A MESSAGE FROM IAIN KERR

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

2013 has been a very productive and diverse year. Our primary goal, to protect whales and their ocean environment has never been more important or imperative so we cannot thank you enough for supporting our programs.

To counter the diverse challenges facing whales and our oceans we have made significant leaps forward with both old and new programs in 2013.  Following are a few highlights: Read More

SEA SHEPHERD VISITS THE PAINT FACTORY

By | Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf, Paint Factory Headquarters, Sea Shepherd | No Comments

Sea Shepherd at Paint FactoryMembers of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, including founder Captain Paul Watson, paid a visit to our headquarters, the Tarr and Wonson Paint Manufactory in Gloucester, MA this weekend. The stars of the Animal Planet series “Whale Wars” had a tour of the facility and paid a visit to local businesses and restaurants during their stay, attracting quite a bit of attention on Main Street where the locals recognized and welcomed them to Gloucester. Read More

“COLLABORATIVE WORLD” ART SHOW TO BENEFIT OCEAN ALLIANCE

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

Collaborative World detail by Rebecca Siswick and Nome GrahamOcean Alliance’s headquarters at the former Tarr and Wonson Paint Manufactory are located in the heart of the Rocky Neck Art Colony in Gloucester, MA. It’s a beautiful place to visit, full of galleries and gorgeous scenery, and also happens to be the oldest working art colony in the country. We consider our relationship with the art colony a collaboration, we look after each other, and this is how we met artists Rebecca Siswick Graham and Nome Graham. Read More

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

THE ODYSSEY HEADS BACK TO THE GULF

By | Ocean Alliance News, Odyssey, Sounds, Technology, Whales | No Comments

Odyssey with acoustic gearThe 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

Scripps/Odyssey team loading the boatAcoustic gear

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

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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