Monthly Archives

April 2015

CEO Iain Kerr Represents Ocean Alliance at Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammal Conference

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Last week, our CEO Iain Kerr attended a Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammal research and monitoring meeting, hosted by the US Marine Mammal Commission.

In the above photo, Iain is standing next to Laura Engleby – who works in the NOOA Fisheries Southeast Regional office. Not only is she a long time friend, but she is the Marine Mammal Project Coordinator for the Gulf of Mexico.

The meeting was focused on the Gulf of Mexico – where we have been working over the last 5 summers in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which began five years ago today.

The Meeting’s Objectives were as follows:

– Provide an overview of marine mammal stocks and human activities in the Gulf of Mexico

– Review marine mammal research and monitoring programs in the Gulf of Mexico

– Identify potential funding sources/opportunities for marine mammal research and monitoring

– Identify high priority, overarching marine mammal information needs for the next 5-15 years

Dr. Iain Kerr, Dr John Hildebrand from SCRIPPS La Jolla & Dr. Frances Gulland from Marine Mammal Center Sausalito

Dr. Iain Kerr, Dr John Hildebrand from SCRIPPS La Jolla & Dr. Frances Gulland from Marine Mammal Center Sausalito

The Gulf of Mexico is a fascinating and diverse ecosystem, and it plays an important role in the US economy. 17% of the US gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the Gulf and Gulf related industries and tourism. In 2011 alone, Gulf fisheries brought in $818 million. The Deepwater Horizon disaster shone a spotlight on wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, considering that 41% of runoff across the USA drains into the Mississippi. This means that everything from industrial, agriculture (intentional and unintentional) runoff to just the regular detritus of our lifestyles is being dumped into the Gulf. This kind of data proves that we need to keep up the momentum so that we can learn all we can about the 21 species of marine mammals that live in the Gulf and the threats from human activities that they face. As we see it ,the Gulf of Mexico is a great microcosm for larger ocean systems.  Some say ‘as go the Gulf so go the world’s oceans’.  A big thanks to the US Marine Mammal Commission for putting together this meeting.
-Dr Iain Kerr

Blue Wave Gallery’s Oceans! Exhibit Supports, Features Ocean Alliance

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Several weeks ago, we were contacted by Asia Scudder, the owner of Blue Wave Gallery in Amesbury, who was looking for an ocean conservation organization to connect with and feature at her upcoming Oceans! art exhibit. The show was based around the work of fabric artist Suzanne Connor whose work reflects the lush beauty of underwater scenes.

Asia wanted to feature Ocean Alliance during the exhibit and offer 10% of the proceeds from any sale of artwork from the show. Asia visited our Paint Factory headquarters just a couple of weeks before the opening to discuss details and she discovered that I was not only an OA staff member, but also a fine artist whose subject matter revolves around the ocean. Asia expressed her interest in my ocean-themed work, and I happily agreed to contribute several pieces to hang in the exhibit.

I delivered the work a week before the opening and was impressed by the light-filled open-air gallery space. Asia has done an impeccable job of creating a space that is both modern & professional and warm & inviting. I met Thomas Barrasso, a photographer she represents whose photographs are stunning. .

Fast forward to the opening reception: It was an unseasonably chilly evening on April 4th, but that didn’t keep a steady flow of artists and patrons from coming out to see the ocean-themed exhibit. Upon entering, guests were greeted by Suzanne’s ethereal fabric jellyfish and a bold poster proclaiming OCEANS! Asia also had a small area at the entrance set aside for Ocean Alliance brochures and merchandise to sell. The gallery was filled with ambiance -Suzanne’s work hung on several walls on the left of the gallery, mine on a smaller wall on the right. Suzanne, who is not only talented but incredibly kind and enthusiastic, proclaimed “I love our work sharing the space together; Although it is very different, our pieces are incredibly complementary to one another!”– I wholeheartedly agreed!

Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr arrived soon after the start of the opening, mingled for a bit and then, as planned, was invited to speak to the crowd at 6:30. Suzanne’s beautiful humpback whale piece hung behind Iain and provided the perfect backdrop for his talk about the state of the oceans, our work with whales, and the Ocean Alliance mission and our hope for the future. The crowd was incredibly attentive and receptive and many questions were asked during the Q&A portion of the talk.

Sea Turtle - Suzanne Connor

Sea Turtle – Suzanne Connor

Patrons, artists, and Ocean Alliance staff members continued to mingle, network and enjoy the artwork. Attendees also enjoyed wine and organic refreshments that were provided by the Flatbread Company, a local restaurant.

After several enjoyable hours, the final guests began to head home and the featured artists, OA staff, and gallery owner reflected on the success of the event. The Oceans! opening reception was the perfect mix of multidisciplinary elements- A true testament to the power and increasing importance of the fusion of art, science, and conservation as a means to engage the masses and ultimately bring about real change.

Many thanks to Asia Scudder for her belief in this concept and for inviting our organization, as well an Ocean Alliance staff member/artist, to participate in this beautiful exhibit. The Oceans! exhibit will be on display until May 10th, 2015. For more information, please visit Blue Wave’s website.

– Rebecca Siswick Graham, Programs Manager, Ocean Alliance

Japan’s Refusal To Eat Toxic Whale Meat Could Save Whale Populations

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In a segment on Public Radio International’s Living on Earth program recently, the subject of toxicants in whale meat leading to Japan’s refusal to import Norwegian meat came up. Peter Dykstra of EHN and Daily Climate was quoted in the story:

Recently, two groups, the Environmental Investigation Agency and the Animal Welfare Institute, uncovered documents showing that Japan rejected imports of whale meat from Norway due to pesticide contamination — chemicals linked to birth defects and cancer like aldrin, dieldrin, and chlordane.

While the Save The Whale movement has been one of the most successful environmental campaigns over the last thirty years, due to the diversity of threats – new and existing – and a stubbornness by certain countries to change their habits, many people consider that whales now face more threats than ever before.

Millions of dollars have been spent on campaigns to try to stop the Japanese from commercial whaling. While it is a cultural issue for the Japanese, it is still taking a huge toll on whale and dolphin populations. For the last 25 years, Ocean Alliance has been worried about the slow, ubiquitous bioconcentration of environmental toxicants in whales and the devastating effect this can have on mammalian health.

A tragic upside of this that Ocean Alliance has been exploring over the last decade is the fact that this means that whale meat is too toxic to eat. This work has been reinforced by Japan’s refusal to import Norwegian whale meat. In Japan, it was status symbol, but now, it has lost its cachet.

Often in science, we have to give proof before we can lobby for changes in society’s behavior. But in the case of human consumption of whale meat, our CEO Iain Kerr finds real irony in the fact that whales could be saved because we’ve poisoned them as to be unfit to eat.

Ocean Alliance has spent years gathering this data – for instance, we provided the data for the movie The Cove – and we will continue collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data on toxicants in whales – and perhaps that, ultimately, that can save them.

Spring is the Air – and so are SnotBots!

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As the conference paper writing the team has been engrossed in wrapped up last Friday the 27th, the team decided to take a break and get back into the swing of things by pulling out the equipment and having a “fly day” on Sunday featuring our recently added fleet member, The Bullfrog, and our new pal the IRIS+ (affectionately named Morticia).


Morticia sitting on the paving stones in ‘The O’ on Olin College’s campus.

Along with new fleet members, we also have welcomed several new team members to the fold at Olin College, who are looking to work on everything from software to electrical systems, and hardware modifications to fleet vehicles and accessories.

Professor Bennett and team member Rocco (‘18), connecting Morticia to the ground station (the computer). This will enable flight data to be recorded, and failsafes to engage in case anything happens to the controller or radio during flight.

Professor Bennett and team member Rocco (‘18), connecting Morticia to the ground station (the computer). This will enable flight data to be recorded, and failsafes to engage in case anything happens to the controller or radio during flight.

Team Member Rocco (‘18) test flying Morticia.

Team Member Rocco (‘18) test flying Morticia.

The Olin College crew hopes to make it out to Gloucester soon to start practice flights over the water, and test the autonomy code. Right now as the semester at Olin is winding down, we’re making all the preparations necessary to make the transition to the Summer team as seamless as possible. This means finishing up our software development and hardware prototypes, documenting the work that’s been done, and getting new members trained on everything they’ll need to have a successful (and fun) summer.

What do Astrophysics, Whale Conservation and Haute Couture have in Common?

By | Paint Factory Headquarters | No Comments

Picture an average working day in my office at Ocean Alliance … ocean views to die for, shared pizza lunches, and yesterday an impromptu roundtable with an astrophysicist, an ocean scientist, a private wealth manager and a robotics program director.

What was magical to witness were the dynamic ideas that emerge when science, nature, fashion, and finance get together – although the practicalities of getting a whale onto a catwalk caused a chuckle or two.

What do we all have in common? The complexity of our work, articulating why it matters, and helping people understand how it relates to them personally.

The collaboration between Ocean Alliance (science), Bionic Yarn, G-Star Jeans (fashion) and Pharrell Williams (music) fashioned by Parley for the Ocean (media) is a good example of what can happen when science and artistic factions collaborate. You can read more about it  here.

This project demonstrated that the science of cleaning up the plastic from our oceans can be used as a subject to create powerful momentum for change if it is translated effectively using a fashion and music medium.

The trick, however, is ensuring the science crosses into the creative sphere in its purest and most understandable form and the factions work together in balance and without dominance, like in nature, so everyone benefits. It reflects an interesting form of interdependence which curiously also applies to life in our oceans.

Science and the arts have had a long history of collaboration – Leonardo da Vinci is a singular prime example. Science ultimately drives our culture. Artistic imagination and creativity explores and translates the things we don’t understand, and eventually concepts drip down to us simpler beings so we get the bigger picture as it relates to us. Like here.

Fashion designers fill the catwalks with haute couture designs seeking inspiration from science and nature in developing story boards and producing new collections that have higher intellectual meaning that (hopefully) resonate with their premium clients.

Ultimately the ideas are translated for the masses by the high street retailers.

So maybe science, through haute couture, can be the catalyst to create a “nouveau noble” generation, ie. privileged individuals who create powerful movements of momentum on pressing global issues such as ocean acidification, but more than that, are creating effective networks to resolve challenges for the masses to participate in, not just the intellectual.

Meanwhile, it seems the younger scientific generation – bravely grappling with, for example, solving the 7 unsolved problems of physics – are really comfortable collaborating with all factions of the creative community, creating astounding new dynamics around problem solving and seeding their work into the real world with more meaning and accessibility, inspiring others to join the cause.

Scientists have long since turned to nature to resolve complex issues – did you know that Ocean Alliance whale recordings are travelling through space right now? There’s some very deep stuff about how whale sounds travel around the planet which even today, continue to generate a lot of interest from within our space network. Meanwhile, working with trusted collaborators such as Olin College of Engineering, we’ve been developing drones to help us collect whale blow for analysis – a neat link into astrophysics territory, perhaps, that’s inspiring a new generation of physicists.

So it seems this happy marriage of science, arts and issues for humanity looks set to continue.

Translating science for the masses inspires more people to join in thinking through problems and unearths ideas and opportunities (and if you really want to blow your mind about how this works in a high brow sense check out this video).

Meantime, I’m reminded every time I look up from the screen of my laptop into a glittering ocean view before me what a special world we live in and what incredible people there are in the world today. We all just need to work harder to join up the dots between them and help tease out the practical synergies of working together to solve real problems!

Get in touch if you’d like to explore with us, or want to rent an office at our research and innovation center with an ocean view!

– Debby Clement, Corporate Development, Ocean Alliance.

Guest speaker Adela briefly explaining her time at Olin College getting what she called a “relevant education” that was hands-on and applied.

Robotics Program Director Adela Wee Speaks at Paint Factory Fliers Club

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This past week at our last Paint Factory Fliers hobby club meeting in our current robotics lab, we were very excited to have a special guest speaker – Adela Wee, our new Robotics Program Director. Adela gave an overview of how she got into technology and robotics. She described her adventures over the last decade and briefly talked through the importance of the oceans and the motivation for developing robots like SnotBot. Adela is a recent graduate of Olin College of Engineering, based in Needham, MA– a 350 person engineering-only undergraduate institution focused on developing engineers for the 21st century. She described her education there as “relevant, hands-on, and applied.”


The attentive audience standing around the screen. We barely fit at full capacity into the pod!


About twenty people were present– including parents and students who regularly participate in our fun building sessions. They had plenty of questions afterwards and many of these individuals voiced their interest in helping out with future SnotBot tests up in Gloucester to just talking shop about processor advances and robotics curriculum at the high school level. Adela was very impressed with the passion and self-motivation that many of these students demonstrated when it came to building their own aerial vehicles.

Thanks, Adela, for all your hard work on Snotbot and for Ocean Alliance!