Monthly Archives

March 2014

Good News at the Paint Factory This Week–Mud

By | Ocean Alliance News, Paint Factory Headquarters | No Comments

Black and White Paint FactoryTo become a functioning oceanographic research and education center at our new headquarters in Gloucester we need a dock. In this case we hope to put in a non-permanent floating dock supported by pilings.  This dock will have multiple purposes–we will be able to bring our own research vessels in and we hope to encourage other research vessels, as well as sail-training vessels and schooners, to tie up in front of the Paint Factory.

One thing we are particularly excited about is giving kids access to the water, whether it be working on a robotics program with Olin College, science projects with Maritime Gloucester and local schools, or just messing around in boats.

As with any project at the Paint Factory this is a long, complicated and expensive process. You need at least 15 feet of mud to put in a piling that can support a floating dock. If you don’t have that depth of mud you need to put in what are called rock sockets. Depending on the depth of the rock socket, this can cost from $8000 to  $14,000 per piling. In our case we expect to have 10 pilings, which would mean $140K just for the pilings.

This Tuesday Prock Marine of Rockland, ME agreed to stop by the Paint Factory and drop in a few test pilings to see what depth of mud we had. Iain spoke with one gentleman who said–you never can tell, right next to a ledge you can have 30 ft of mud, or the ledge can extend out and you can have only 3 ft of mud.

We have good news to report for this first stage–they found an average depth of  15-19 feet of mud along the front of our facility. This means the mud in front of the Paint Factory is deep enough to support the pilings we will need to put in a floating dock. The next step now is to draw up plans and start the permitting process.Paint Factory Restoration Plan

Come Meet Iain Kerr this Friday at The Bridge Business Expo

By | Education, Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

Iain filming dolphinsThis Friday, March 28th, come and see us at The Bridge Business Expo at Magnolia Library in Gloucester, MA from 4-8 pm. Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr will be on hand from 6-8 to tell you what’s in store this year and answer all of your whale and ocean pollution questions from his 20+ years of experience. Rebecca Siswick-Graham will have whale artifacts, t-shirts for sale, stickers and a free raffle of whale-y items. We’ll be sharing a table with our partners from 7 Seas Whale Watch so you can learn more about the humpback whale population they know so well. Come see the best of what Gloucester has to offer—local non-profits like Cape Ann Art Haven, North Shore Folklore Theatre, and local artisans and businesses from stone carvers to health and wellness providers. There will be wine and refreshments, and lots of fun giveaways and offers so come on down!

Update: SnotBot and SailBot will be there for you to check out.

Join Us in Support of Ocean Alliance at the Gloucester Pride Stride

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

Paint Factory sunsetHow would you like to take a scenic walk around Gloucester’s historic waterfront while raising money for Ocean Alliance? Join us on Sunday April 27th at noon for the 27th Annual Gloucester Pride Stride Walk, a five-mile loop beginning and ending at Stage Fort Park, the site of Gloucester’s first settlers in 1623, with views of our headquarters—the Tarr and Wonson Paint Manufactory and Ten Pound Island. The walk will pass the working waterfront of Rogers Street, State Fish Pier, Main Street and the Boulevard with the iconic Fishermen’s Memorial (Man at the Wheel). The event includes a free cookout, live music and an inflatable playground and games. Download your registration form here.

90% of the donations you raise will go towards Ocean Alliance to support our work with whales and ocean pollution and the renovation of the Paint Factory. We look forward to meeting you and celebrating Gloucester’s non-profit community!

Gloucester Pride Stride

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:

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 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

Take a Virtual Immersion Tour of the Paint Factory

By | mar14, Paint Factory Headquarters | No Comments

The Tarr and Wonson Paint Manufactory is one of the most well-known sights on the north shore of Massachusetts. The historic birthplace of marine bottom paint, it is a favorite subject of painters and photographers, but if you didn’t work there, you probably never went inside—it wasn’t a tourist attraction, it was a factory.

After the property was purchased for Ocean Alliance with a grant from the Annenberg Foundation, Iain Kerr and our friend, photographer Jonah Gouin, wanted to change that, so Jonah used virtual immersion technology to give you a look inside and outside these iconic buildings. Choose one of nine starting points on the “Plan” and move around the room up, down and around, starting here:

Paint Factory Inside

This virtual tour is a great historic reference image compilation that allows us to zoom in and zoom out and capture important aspects of the site that might be lost in regular still photos or a set of measurements.  One of the first things we did when we bought the site was to have every aspect of every building laser measured–when you add hundreds of still photos and this virtual tour to these laser measurements we feel that we have the site very well-documented.

In the case of the buildings that have been taken down, they are priceless reference images for future rebuilding. You’ll see under one building the remains of the art show that was put up underneath the building. The tour of the smallest brick building is the “Before” because it is the first to be finished and now houses our offices. Work will resume this spring for Phase 2.

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.


Powerful Sound Sources in the Ocean: Sperm Whales and Military Sonars

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

Internships with Ocean Alliance[This Voice from the Sea was written by Dr. Peter Madsen during his time as chief scientist aboard the Ocean Alliance research vessel Odyssey (Maldives, Seychelles and Sri Lanka) and is just as relevant today as the Navy faces new pressure to protect whales. Dr. Madsen is a bioacoustician at the Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution]

Sperm whales carry the largest and one of the most complicated biological sound generators in the animal kingdom. Their sound generating nose can reach a weight of more than 10 tonnes and generate the highest sound pressures ever measured from any animal with back calculated source sound pressure levels of 230 dB re. 1uPa (rms). Some man-made underwater sound generators can generate equally high or higher sound pressures. Examples of such man-made sound sources include explosive charges, airguns used in seismic exploration and sonars. This log will outline why comparison between different biological and man-made sound sources should be made with caution.

It may be argued that an animal cannot be harmed by sound pressure levels that it itself is capable of producing. Hence, if this line of reasoning is pursued, a sperm whale that can produce source sound pressure levels of 230 dB re. 1uPa should therefore not be harmed if exposed to a sound pressure of 230 dB re. 1uPa from a man-made noise source. That is not correct.

Sperm whale - photo by Chris Johnson

Sperm whale – photo by Chris Johnson

Anyone who has been exposed to an excited drill sergeant will appreciate that sound pressure levels from a conspecific can indeed be unpleasant and damaging to ones hearing. Secondly, toothed whales have special sound production systems in their foreheads that are designed to project a highly directional sound beam forward of the animal and away from their ears – i.e. the whales ears are not receiving a sound pressure that equals the source level of its sound production system. In addition, many animals have build-in hearing protection, so when they know that they are going to make a loud sound, they reduce the sensitivity of their ears by contraction muscles that stiffens the small middle-ear bones that transmits sound energy to the inner ear.

One of the man-made sources of underwater sound that has received much recent attention in possible conjunction with recent strandings of beaked whales (Frantzis, 1997; Jepson et al., 2003), is the mid-frequency, anti submarine warfare sonars (ASWs). This type of sonar is designed to produce powerful sound pulses to be used for active localization of hostile submarines at long ranges. Mid-frequency ASWs produce very high source levels of 230 dB re. 1uPa (rms), and such source levels are often quoted in conjunction with the possible deleterious effects of this device.

The 230 dB re. 1uPa should not be compared to the high sound pressure levels in air from say an jet plane, but it is nevertheless a very high sound pressure that is generated (please refer to previous log). It can be been argued that a mid-frequency ASW cannot be more harmful to marine mammals than a sperm whale producing equally high source sound pressure levels.

Odyssey with sperm whale in the GulfIt is, however, not fair to compare those two sound sources per se, as there are a number of factors that should be taken into consideration. Marine mammals perceives and are affected by the energy in a sound pulse as well as the instantaneous sound pressure. Because sperm whale clicks are very short (0.0001 of a second) compared to the mid-frequency ASW sound pulses with durations of often more than 1 second, the sonar pulse will contain 10000 times (40 dB) more energy than the sperm whale sound pulse, if both are measured from the same distance and in the cone of the sound beam. So while the pressures of the two sound pulses are the same, the energies differ by four orders of magnitude.

A second factor is that the sperm whale emits its powerful clicks in a very narrow beam, so the part of the water column that is ensonified by high sound pressures is considerably smaller than that of the mid-frequency ASW sonar that emits its sound pulses in a broader beam in a horizontal layer around it. In addition, the ASW sound pulses will propagate further in the ocean, because the low frequency sounds at 3-8 kHz propagate with little attenuation compared to sperm whale clicks at 15-20 kHz.

It is important to note that one should discern between a source level (the sound pressure measured or back calculated to a 1 meter range from the source on the acoustic axis) and a received level. In open oceanic water, the sound energy will propagate away from the source as a pressure wave of an expanding sphere, which means that for every doubling of range to the sound source, the sound pressure will be halved. That means that very few if any whales will be exposed to the 230 dB re. 1uPa (rms) that is the source level of the sonar. If the whales are 10 meters away from the source, the received sound pressure level will be reduced by a factor of ten to 210 dB re. 1uPa (rms) (see previous log on how decibels scale) and the received level will be reduced by another factor of 10 at 100 meters to a received level of 190 dB re 1uPa (rms).

Sperm whale - Photo by Chris Johnson

Sperm whale – Photo by Chris Johnson

If this simple so-called inverse square law of spherical spreading applies, it is also evident that the volume of water ensonified by a given sound pressure will depend critically on the source level. Consequently, if the source sound pressure of a sound source is reduced by a factor of two (6 dB), the volume of water ensonified by a given sound pressure will be reduced by up to a factor 8 if spherical spreading is occurring. Unfortunately that is seldom the case, but it is nevertheless true that even relatively small reductions in source level will lead to ensonification with a given high sound pressure of a much smaller body of water.

No matter if one argues for or against possible effects of man made noise, it is important to realize how sound is quantified by humans and sensed by animals, and appreciate that comparisons between sound sources should be advanced with caution and with due respect to relevant units of sound magnitude.