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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Payne Asks You to Buy Less Stuff

By | Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can adopt a humpback whale here.

With very best wishes for the season,

Roger Payne

Scientists Employ Satellite Tags To Solve Whale-Sized Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Monitoring the Acoustic World of Whales

By | nov14, Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

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

Southern Right Whale Aerial Survey Results

By | oct14, Southern Right Whale Program | No Comments

BLOG 3 – 17 September 2014

The Right Whale Program Research Update from the Field in Patagonia

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

The World Unites for the Vaquita

By | Ocean Alliance News, Whales | No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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:

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

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

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

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

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

Join the IoT Olympiad and You Could Win a Whale Watch with Sir Patrick Stewart

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

Ahead of a week of tech-related conferences and expos Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has declared May 2-9 “Internet of Things Week” in the Bay State, making Massachusetts the first state to do so. An exciting part of this coming week is the “Internet of Things” (IoT) Olympiad, a 48-hour hackathon in which IT developers collaborate and compete for a common goal.

IoT OlympiadOne of this year’s themes is “Sustain Life: Sustainable Maritime Economies,” put forward by our friend Tom Balf from Maritime Gloucester. Recently Tom approached Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr and asked if he had any potential projects for the IoT Olympiad, and did we have any incentive packages that could be offered to motivate participants. Iain introduced an idea we’ve been thinking about for a while called Whale Snap. The idea is that you when you are on the water and spot a whale you take a photo with the Whale Snap app. The app would identify the species of whale and give you basic information on that animal almost immediately. Then it would link to a database and contact you back with more info about the whale, potentially its name and when it was last seen, and threats to the species. In this way we can:

  1. Minke whale - photo by Tim Watters

    Minke whale – photo by Tim Watters

    Educate people about regional whale populations

  2. Empower citizen scientists to collecting data
  3. Fund our research, education and conservation efforts

 

 

Iain believes the potential for this program is huge. It could start as a regional program with humpback whales and then go global with Whale Snap applications that are specific to different whale populations around the world.  Considering that Ocean Alliance has data on whale populations from over 20 counties we are well suited to take on this project.

Prizes include:

  • Memorabilia signed by Sir Patrick Stewart and Dr. Roger Payne
  • 7 Seas Whale Watch with Sir Patrick Stewart (date to be determined)
  • Work space at our headquarters in the historic Paint Factory on Gloucester Harbor

To join the IoT Olympiad register here. Good luck!

Meet SnotShot 3.0

By | apr14, Education, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

 

Iain Kerr and Andrew Bennett at Olin College

Iain Kerr and Andrew Bennett at Olin College

When you develop any technology to work with wildlife, particularly endangered species such as marine mammals, you want to get all of your prototypes, testing, and dry runs completed before you go out into the field. As we continue to develop our drone, SnotBot, that will be used to collect Exhaled Breath Condensate (EBC or whale blows) looking for viruses, bacteria, DNA, and hormones, we needed a machine that could simulate a whale blow so we could test all aspects of SnotBot including EBC collection protocols, whale approach and effect protocols, and our systems for collecting and bringing back EBC. Read More

1978 Whale Film Featuring Roger Payne and Sylvia Earle Found in England

By | mar14, Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

Recently Iain Kerr was contacted by a senior radio producer at the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol England named Sarah Blunt. She had been contacted by a gentleman named Harry Espley who lives an hour or so south of Liverpool in a town called Tattenhall.

Humpbacks--The Gentle GiantsHarry had come by an original copy of a 16mm film made by Anglia TV in 1978.  The film, “World of Survival: Humpbacks–the Gentle Giants” was one of the first whale films ever made. It featured Ocean Alliance President Roger Payne, Katie Payne and Sylvia Earle, and was shot by Al Giddings and Chuck Nicklin.  When Al (who later shot the IMAX film “Whales” with Roger) got into the water with Sylvia and Chuck to shoot the underwater segments of the film they had no idea if they would become a whale snack.

Roger remembers, “This was my first time working with the unequaled cameraman Al Giddings and Her Deepness Sylvia Earle.  It was a great expedition into the unknown for all. This was an early example of photographers working with scientists.  Al Giddings saw details of humpback whale behavior that no one had seen before.”

Harry explained he used to play the film at local events to inspire and engage people with the world of whales. When he had reached the point where the film had been sitting for a few years he contacted Sarah, who in turn contacted Iain with news of the find.  Iain asked John Atkinson, our problem solver, to work with Harry to ship the film to the Gloucester.

World of Survival: Humpbacks--The Gentle GiantsWe are very excited to have this film and deeply grateful to Harry for saving this small piece of whale history (and to Sarah for introducing Harry to us). The goal now is to get the film digitized so that it can be played again and seen by a larger audience of whale lovers.

We are looking for someone who can help us transfer the 16 mm film to a digital form either through a grant or contribution. If you or someone you know works for a company with these capabilities please contact Iain Kerr at kerr@whale.org. We look forward to sharing this film with you!

 

What We Came to Protect

By | Commercial whaling, mar14, Ocean Alliance News, Sea Shepherd Australia | No Comments

A Guest Post from Our Sea Shepherd Science Liaison in the Southern Ocean–Eva Hidalgo:

Ice Field in Southern Ocean - Photo by Eliza MuirheadAfter a few weeks of sailing between the 60°S and the 70°S latitudes, the amount of whale sightings seemed to be below our expectations. That may not be very good news for our data collection program, where we collect information from all the sightings of cetaceans; but it was certainly comforting, as we don’t forget how the whaling fleet never sleeps. While the reasons for this lack of sightings may vary, as the days went by, it seemed to become a bit clearer where some of the whales were hiding. As we sailed into the mouth of the Ross Sea, the southernmost sea on earth, numerous small spouts were appearing on the horizon, and some encounters started taking place. The sun was shining on a relatively warm morning, when a pod of fast minke whales joined us, and started what seemed like a race against our ship across the calm ocean. During the summer months, while the rest of baleen whales seem to prefer the periphery of the Ross Sea, Antarctic minke whales seem to have found paradise in one of the most remote oceans on the planet. Read More

How We Biopsy Sperm Whales

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

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

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:

FORMER ODYSSEY CREW CONFRONT JAPANESE WHALERS

By | Commercial whaling, Ocean Alliance News, Sea Shepherd Australia | No Comments

As I write this, commercial whaling (under the false premise of scientific whaling) is going on in Antarctic waters.  Roger Payne calls this, “as egregious a misuse of science—the field I love—as I have ever seen.” This year three RV Odyssey Operation Toxic Gulf crewmembers (our 2013 Gulf of Mexico campaign) are there to try and stop it. Hillary Watson, Eliza Muirhead and Erwin Vermeulen are on board the Sea Shepherd fleet as it confronts Japanese whalers. When these three came to the Odyssey to work last summer they were already veterans of Sea Shepherd’s campaigns around the world. Now they’ve left the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico for the harsh conditions of the Southern Ocean.

Front from left - Eliza Muirhead, Lauren Paap, Second row from left - Andy Rogan, Bob Wallace, Iain Kerr, Erwin Vermeulen, Hillary Watson, Camron Adibi

Front from left – Eliza Muirhead, Lauren Paap, Second row from left – Andy Rogan, Bob Wallace, Iain Kerr, Erwin Vermeulen, Hillary Watson, Camron Adibi

The news broke this week that the Sea Shepherd fleet – the Bob Barker, Steve Irwin and Sam Simon had found the Japanese whaling fleet, but not before they had harvested four minke whales, three of which were on the deck of the factory ship, and one that had evidently already been processed. As we are collaborating with the Sea Shepherd fleet collecting sightings and other data in Antarctica, Roger Payne has been in touch with Eliza Muirhead and identified the sex of the whales lying on the deck of the Japanese ship. From left to right in the photo they are male, female and the far right whale we think but cannot confirm is also female.  Males have two genital slits while females have one, in the case of Minke whales the females can grow to be a lot larger than the males, which is what suggest to us that the far right animal is female.Dead Minkes on Nisshun Maru - Photo by Sea Shepherd Australia

We will be thinking of the safety and well-being of our friends and everyone working in that hostile environment during this campaign.

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.

 

 

DO WHALES COMPETE WITH HUMANS FOR FISH?

By | Commercial whaling, Odyssey, Sperm Whales, Voyage of the Odyssey, Whales | No Comments

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.

Sperm whale - Photo by Chris Johnson

Sperm whale – Photo by Chris Johnson

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

JUST ANOTHER DAY AT WHALE CAMP – RAINBOW AND MOTHER/CALF PARADE!

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

BLOG 7 September 6, 2013

An amazing day today!

Rainbow Over Whale Camp - Photo by Vicky Rowntree Just after the airflight team left to survey the whales, the rising sun created a beautiful rainbow that arched over the cliff-top observation site and appeared to land in the water directly in front of whale camp. After a dousing rain, I hiked to the cliffs and found a spot protected from the strong wind behind a broad bush to leave my backpack full of gear. Just as I dropped my pack I heard a loud blow beneath me and quickly unpacked the camera to take identification photographs of the white markings on the head of the whale that was passing by.  What followed was amazing!! Read More

ALARMING NUMBER OF SOUTHERN RIGHT WHALE CALF FATALITIES

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

BLOG 6 – September 2013 – Research Station in Península Valdés

Dead Right Whale Calf 2008 - Photo by Iain KerrI make “focal animal follows” of mothers and their calves to determine the amount of time they spend in high and low energy behaviors. The Península Valdés right whales have a big problem.  An unusually high number of calves have died on this calving ground since 2005. Read More

PARENTING YOUR TWO TON BUNDLE OF JOY

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

BLOG 5 – September 2013 – Research Station in Península Valdés

Cliff Observation Site - Photo by Vicki RowntreeWhenever the wind is not blowing too hard, I spend my time on the cliffs of Península Valdés watching mother/calf pairs as they pass beneath me on their way to and from camp bay. I choose a mother/calf pair that is swimming along the coast towards me and continuously record the behavior of each whale until they pass out of sight. “Focal animal follows” are a wonderful way to get to know individual whales and learn how they spend their day. Read More

YET ANOTHER THREAT TO WHALES – GULL ATTACKS

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BLOG 4 – 1 September 2013 – at the Research Station in Península Valdés

Gull Attack on Right Whale We spent the day recording behavioral data from the cliffs. Vicky records the behavior of right whale mothers and calves, and their respiration rate as a way to estimate their body condition. I began our annual monitoring of the frequency of gull attacks on the whales. Kelp gulls have learned to feed on the skin and blubber of live whales at Península Valdés. The gulls land and peck on the back of the whales, opening lesions and affecting the whales’ behavior. Read More

THE FINGERPRINTS OF THE RIGHT WHALE – CALLOSITIES

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

BLOG 3 – 30 August 2013 – from Península Valdés

Guanacos in Patagonia - Photo by Iain KerrWe spent a good part of this week at technical meetings and running errands in Puerto Madryn, the city nearest to Península Valdés. It is now 6:30 PM on a calm afternoon. As I write this, I am sitting in the truck in the middle of nowhere, looking at the endless shrubland around me, while a family of guanacos (the South American camels) walks slowly among the thorny bushes. We drove to this particular spot because it is one of the few “high” places where we can get cell phone signal to connect to the outside world, send and receive messages, make phone calls… and wait for a friend. Read More

THE OLD MAN AND THE WHALE

By | Southern Right Whale Program, Whales | No Comments

The Old Man and the WhaleAs the Right Whale team arrives in Patagonia for our 43rd field season we wanted to share with you a unique opportunity to learn more about Península Valdés – the people, the setting and the whales. The Old Man and the Whale is a small treasure of a book that will transport you to our whale camp, written by a man who knows it well. John Atkinson has been traveling to Patagonia from Canada every year for over 21 years, for the sole purpose of hanging out of an airplane to take aerial photos of the whales. He has immersed himself in the culture, so it only made sense for him as a full-time writer to write a story about a place he loves. Read More

OUR 43RD FIELD SEASON IN PATAGONIA BEGINS

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

Southern Right Whale Mother and CalfRight whales are the most endangered of great whales. When Dr. Roger Payne started gathering data on the Southern Right whale in Peninsula Valdez, Argentina in 1970 he was concerned that this species might be lost forever and so Ocean Alliance’s Southern Right Whale Program began.

For centuries, right whales were hunted mercilessly. Early whalers called them “the right whales to kill” because they are slow, have a thick blubber layer that produces abundant oil, and float when dead. Southern right whales were protected internationally in 1935. As whalers stopped hunting right whales, the populations in the southern hemisphere have recovered substantially, although they are still below their pre-whaling sizes.

Over the last 43 years we have conducted aerial surveys monitoring the right whale populations, our catalog now contains over 3,000 photo-identified individual right whales from Península Valdés, Argentina. Important findings on the biology of right whales were obtained using benign, non-lethal techniques. Among other things, we now know that females reproduce on average once every three years, their mean age at first parturition is 9 years, the annual rate of population increase is 5.1%, juveniles use breeding grounds to socialize with other juveniles and to potentially learn important behaviors, and right whales can shift their distribution along the shorelines of Península Valdés over decades.

The documented growth of the population of southern right whales in Argentina has been regarded for several decades as a sign of hope that recovery can occur in a whale species, but recent mortality events suggest that this population of whales may be less healthy and robust than previously thought. This reinforces the importance of continuing our research and monitoring efforts to help understand the population trends and their causes.

Southern Right Whale The great whales are important indicators of ocean health because they consume such large quantities of food and occupy home ranges that span thousands of miles. The Patagonian right whale population is recognized as one of the best indicators of the response of baleen whales to climate change in the Southern Ocean because the reproductive histories of so many of its individuals have been recorded continuously for four decades. Continuing the annual aerial surveys of the Patagonian right whale population is essential for understanding the health of this population and its extremely important western South Atlantic ecosystem.

“The (Right Whale) data you (Ocean Alliance) hold would no doubt be the single most valuable source of information on whales and their environment available… there really is nothing else out there quite as good.”
– Steve Reilly, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The Patagonian Right Whale Program is now a collaborative effort of Ocean Alliance and Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas (ICB), an Argentine nonprofit founded by Roxana Schteinbarg and Diego Taboada, based in Buenos Aires. For more information please visit the the ICB website or the English version.

We look forward to sharing with you our 43rd field season in Argentina in the coming weeks.

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