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
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. Certainly 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. Perhaps 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 2014
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.
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.
Our 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:
Concentrations 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)
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.
A special announcement from Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr:
The Research Vessel Odyssey heads back into the Gulf of Mexico for a fifth season today.
I’ve spent the last two weeks with a remarkable international crew aboard the Odyssey prepping for our fifth summer of data and sample collection in the Gulf of Mexico—our joint campaign with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society—Operation Toxic Gulf . The crew represent six countries: Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Holland, Spain and the USA. Read More
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
Ocean Alliance has spent the last four summers in the Gulf of Mexico studying the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on sperm whales with our partners—the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Now as BP declares that “active cleanup” has been concluded, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has released a report compiling study after study showing that the Gulf is far from healthy. Read More
In 2010 the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico riveted the world with images of gushing oil in amounts hardly imaginable. Once the oil well was capped the press all but disappeared from the Gulf but the disaster remained. Iain Kerr, Roger Payne and our research partner Dr. John Wise from the University of Southern Maine, decided that this was where Ocean Alliance’s research vessel Odyssey needed to be to find out if and what damage the oil and dispersants were causing to the whales of the Gulf. That summer the Odyssey, staffed by a scientific team from USM including Dr. Wise, traveled from Gloucester to the site of the spill to collect what opportunistic data we could, including biopsy skin and blubber samples from sperm whales and we’ve returned every summer since.
This week the Wise Laboratory announced the publication of a new paper in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology. The paper focuses not on the oil or dispersants, but on the genotoxic metals found in the Gulf oil – specifically chromium and nickel. The Wise Laboratory has been our principle partner analyzing samples taken from sperm whales for over 10 years now. They have conducted much of the toxicological analysis from our global Voyage of the Odyssey that ran between 2000-2005. Previous analysis by the Wise Laboratory has found that metals cause DNA damage and bioaccumulate in the tissues of whales. Using our sperm whale global data set the Wise team have been able to determine that samples taken in the Gulf were “significantly higher” in these metals than samples taken in other parts of the world.
Over the last 15 years Ocean Alliance has been collecting data on ocean pollution; this gives us the capacity to take what we learn from locations such a as the Gulf of Mexico and put that data into a global context. Many people dedicated time and money not only to the Gulf expeditions but also to the Voyage of the Odyssey and we are very grateful to everyone who has made this work and this publication possible.
Here is a look at the science we do on board the RV Odyssey in the Gulf of Mexico. This film was made in 2010 with the team from the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine just after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Alas the weather is not always this nice nor are the whales this abundant but you get to see how we approach sperm whales and collect a small biopsy of skin and blubber for toxicological analysis and the development of cell lines. This is work is conducted under National Marine Fisheries permit number 13545. Read More
This post comes from Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr in the snowy Gulf of Mexico:
It was a very full few days here at the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Conference. Over 800 dedicated people. If there is any good news coming out of the BP disaster it is the increased interest in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Part of what drives me is to try to get people to appreciate that we live on planet Ocean not planet Earth. The largest mediating force on this planet is our oceans, not our land masses. Alas the oceans are downhill from everything and as a consequence are becoming humanity’s sewer. Read More
Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr and Dr. John Wise from the Wise Laboratory are currently in Mobile, Alabama at the Gulf Oil Spill and Ecosystem Conference, presenting their findings on the effects of dispersants on sperm whales in the Gulf.
In addition to presentations there are also daily discussion groups for members. Sunday’s discussion was as follows:
Setting the Record Straight: Debunking Myths and Misconceptions about Oil in the Gulf and Promoting Ocean Literacy
- How does the 2010 Gulf oil spill, and its subsequent impacts, compare to other spills?
- How and where did the oil move?
- What happened to the oil?
- How does the amount of oil leaked from Deepwater Horizon compare to natural and other releases of oil in the Gulf?
- What is the impact of oil spills on organisms that live in the water, including those that we eat?
- How do they clean an oil spill and can it ever be totally cleaned up?
- What’s going to happen next time there is an oil spill?
The conference continues until Thursday and Iain will bring back as much information as he can to share.
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
A Guest Post by Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr:
Ocean 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
Ocean Alliance believes that the greatest threat facing whales (& ultimately humanity) is ocean pollution. Based on that premise, OA has been focusing its efforts for the last 15 years looking at the concentrations and effects of pollutants in the world’s oceans. Ocean Alliance’s five-year global study, the Voyage of the Odyssey, collected the first ever baseline data on ocean pollution using sperm whales as an indicator species. This study continues to bear fruit, with the publication of a new paper in the Marine Pollution Bulletin by our science partners at the Wise Laboratory. Read More
This 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.
From 2000 to 2005 Ocean Alliance sent the research vessel Odyssey around the world. We collected literally mountains of data, taking skin and blubber biopsies from sperm whales that we continue analyze. Just last month our scientific partners at the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine published a paper based on this data: “A Global Assessment of Oceanic Lead Pollution using Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus) as an Indicator Species.” Read More
The following is a summary of goals and accomplishments for the 2013 collaborative research expedition Operation Toxic Gulf carried out by Sea Shepherd Global and Ocean Alliance in the Gulf of Mexico (USA) aboard the Research Vessel Odyssey. While we continue to work closely with our scientific partner the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine, this year our campaign partner was Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Global. Read More
Researchers are discovering that earwax from whales can hold valuable information from their lifetime, including their toxic load. A new article from National Geographic.com explains this newly emerging science, including the opinion of Dr. John Wise on the value of the data. Check out the fascinating article here.
This spring I was deeply concerned that Ocean Alliance would not be able to return to the Gulf of Mexico to continue the work Dr. John Wise and I started in 2010 looking at the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on marine mammals. Around that time I was talking with my good friend Alex Cornelissen (Shepherd Global Executive Officer) about another mutual concern and the Gulf came up in discussion. Less than a month later Alex told me that we would be returning to the Gulf with the full support of Sea Shepherd Global and so Operation Toxic Gulf was born. Read More