Monthly Archives

June 2015

Paint Factory Flyers Robotics Club Heads Outdoors!

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

As previously mentioned, Ocean Alliance has a pretty nice robotics lab (in a modified shipping container) here at the Paint Factory that we use for developing oceanographic research tools. We thought it would be a little greedy to keep such a wonderful resource to ourselves, so we started a hobby club about 8 months ago. Through this club, we are not looking to replicate what is going on in the local school programs – as but add to them and have fun while developing skills. Key words are Exploration, Discovery, Collaboration and Application. I hope that one day the kids who are involved now will run the club, mentor younger kids and develop new research tools for Ocean Alliance.

At its most basic level the club is trying to develop 4 skill areas:

1. Construction – making and repairing models/machines.

2. Soldering – wiring and connecting circuit boards

3. Programming – a lot of the flying machines we use have computers that need to be told what to do. I had a programming problem with one of my drones that was explained and sorted out for me by a 14 yr old last week.

4. Flying – we have 3 simulators, that can be used for plane, boat, quad copter & car simulations.

Once kids have qualified on the simulators they can then fly our machines. They can of course fly their own machines any time they want. Currently club members are building radio controlled foam airplanes (about a foot in length). Older kids are working on the electronics packages, younger kids  are working on the planes. Right now we have about 50 people on our mailing list, which means that in average that about 20 people come to our weekly club meetings. Usually, we have 6 or 7 adults and the rest are children. We call the club members the PF Flyers.


Here are the foamie kits that we are currently building.We are OK to have kids bring in their own equipment to work on, or they can work on new projects at the club Thanks to a grant from the Applied Material Foundation, we are able to provide all of the tools and materials that the kids need for the club free of charge – there is no fee or cost to join the club. Participants can keep the plane they build but we do not give them the RC controller or receiver (cost of $150 and up). When at club activities, we do loan out controllers and receivers. Participants can come to the club for 30 minutes and run a simulator, or stay the full 2 hours and build a plane, drone, car or boat. There is no maximum or minimum participation – members just need to bring their enthusiasm.


Here is an example of the drone work that we do as oceanographers. With the great weather we’ve had here in Gloucester, the PF Flyers were out in force on Wednesday, flying at the Seine field in East Gloucester. We had over 20 participants, with more than 15 bringing their own build and or bought machines (most bringing more than one machine). There were tricopters, quadcopters, 3 different kinds of FPV (first person view) systems (these systems give the pilot the feel of actually flying from the cockpit), sail planes, foam planes and even a 3 foot wingspan scale piper cub. I once knew a professional rally car driver, who used to say that when losing control of a car don’t look at a tree that you are scared of hitting, look at the gap between the trees. It was amazing to me how many foam planes crashed into the one tree at Seine field (no trees were harmed) – because the flyers were so focused on missing the tree, the planes seemed to keep going that way!

Not one, but two drones up there!

Not one, but two drones up there!

It has been a real pleasure for all of us here at OA to develop this club. It’s a great feeling, seeing all the kids working together, flying and learning and having fun on a sunny Gloucester evening – who could ask for more? Currently the youngest pilot is an 8 yr old girl and our of respect I will just say that the oldest is many decades older. Last but not least, it was great to have some RC pilots visiting and flying with us from Albuquerque, New Mexico.


As we look to the future of the club our goals include:

-Establishing a permanent residence for the Applied Environmental Robotics Laboratory and Youth Club Program in the (currently being restored) brick buildings at the Paint Factory. We are now at capacity for the club so we need a bigger space.

-Continuing to outfit the program with necessary kits and materials so that kids can join build and learn at no charge.

-Continuing outreach to local youth and K-12 schools.

-Integrating the youth club into real-world applications or making the connection to real-world applications.

If you want more information on the club and/or are interested in supporting this effort with donated time or funds, please contact Iain Kerr at

Bryde’s Amendment: Not What It Seems.

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

A news story has been published widely over the past few weeks, speaking to the proposed protection of a ‘unique’ species of whale in the Gulf of Mexico.

The species in question is the Bryde’s whale (confusingly pronounced ‘broodus’ whale), more specifically, the Gulf of Mexico population of Bryde’s whales. The articles correctly mention that due to a combination of genetic and acoustic data, this population is likely an entirely separate species from other Bryde’s whales.

Followers of Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd might also remember that during the 2014 Operation Toxic Gulf, Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd collected a biopsy from one of these whales with the hopes of gathering more information on them.

On the surface, this is nothing but wonderful news. The stock assessment for this population is around 33 individuals, making it critically endangered, on the very cusp of extinction. This species, already living in a heavily industrialized body of water, needs all the protection we can afford it.

However, to us at Ocean Alliance, this revelation hides potential sinister undertones. The articles point to this recent proposal being pushed forward after new areas of the Gulf of Mexico, areas constituting critical habitat to these whales, are being opened up to oil drilling. What the articles missed was that the proposed amendment allows the company involved in oil & gas drilling operations to emit an increased amount of greenhouse gases and volatile organic compounds. The specific area being opened up is called DeSoto Canyon, a submarine canyon located around 75 miles south of the Florida panhandle.

Why is this worrying? Or perhaps more appropriately, is there a reason this is particularly worrying?

I can assure you that there is. During Operation Toxic Gulf, it was my responsibility as Science Manager, along with Captain Bob Wallace, to collect as much data as we could on offshore gulf whales. This included, but was not limited to, collecting a statistically valid number of tissue samples (50 Sperm whales biopsies). This level of responsibility afforded us the right to decide where we went to search for whales. Almost every single time we left our home port of Pensacola, we headed directly for one place. We would have gone there every time if not for concerns over encountering the same group of whales. Where you ask?

DeSoto Canyon.

Throughout Operation Toxic Gulf we traversed thousands of square kilometres. And consistently, the richest and most bio-diverse place, the place where we were most likely to see not just Sperm whales, but an extraordinary wealth of other species (many endangered) was DeSoto Canyon. This adage held true to the extent that towards the end of the expedition we often made predictions that within 30 minutes of entering the DeSoto Canyon area we would see at least 100 dolphins. This was incredible considering that in our typical research area, spanning a few thousand square kilometres across the Gulf of Mexico, it is very easy to go days without seeing a single dolphin. Without fail, our predictions regarding the dolphins would be proven right, their presence first made known acoustically as an almost inexplicable blend of whistles, clicks, squeaks and groans poured into the pilot house through the hydrophone trailing behind the boat.

A look over our data shows that we recorded 9 different species of marine mammal in the DeSoto Canyon area. This amounts to almost half the marine mammal species to be found in the entire Gulf of Mexico. All of which were encountered in such a relatively small area, during an accumulated period of time spanning less than a week. To us DeSoto Canyon represented the richest and most biodiverse region in the northern Gulf of Mexico. This is by no means an authoritative, official statement, but one borne out of many thousands of hours spent collecting environmental and biological data in the northern Gulf. This year our CEO has had meetings with both the Marine Mammal Commission and BOEM – at both meetings he proposed that critical or designated hotspots for marine mammals be created in the Gulf of Mexico and the poster child for such a critical habitat should be the DeSoto canyon.

Certainly, we can point to the fact that this proposed amendment to drilling in the area has offered special protection to this population of Bryde’s whales as a major positive. However, personally I see this a rather moot point. If legislation is passed through declaring this stock a separate species (an outcome likely if the genetic data is to be used), then this will be the most endangered marine mammal on the planet. It should not need its critical habitat being opened up for drilling to afford it special protection! A population comprising of around 33 animals should have it anyway!

I perhaps have more faith than most in the ability of environmental law makers and government organisations to protect regions of particular environmental importance. Certainly, a delicate balancing act is involved. The economic riches to be had from fuelling our thirst for hydrocarbons is an intense pressure. But in a changing world, where the footprint of man is becoming increasingly intense, places of significant biodiversity must be protected. This is particularly crucial in an already heavily industrialised body of water, and one which has recently seen one of the worst environmental disasters in human history.

In my opinion this represents a stark, and incredibly disappointing, failure on their behalf.

– Andy Rogan, Ocean Alliance Science Manager

Searching For A Father’s Day Gift? Why not give blue?

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

What do you get for the dad that has everything? Why not go green, and give blue?

Chances are, your dad is like my dad, and is notoriously difficult to shop for. He has all the tools he needs – or he’d spend the entirety of a Saturday in the automotive department at Sears while blissfully avoiding your calls to bring home milk. Sweaters and beard trimmers are appreciated, sure – but are they necessary? Does he routinely complain about needing to “get rid of junk?” We have a solution.

Our Whale Adoption is a great way to make your dad feel good. You reduce the amount of “stuff” while providing a truly interesting gift that appeals to dads who enjoy science and nature. Next time he’s out mowing the lawn, he can let his mind wander to thoughts of what Salt, Owl, or Etch A Sketch are up to these days (probably slapping their tails into the water).

Here’s what you get with a $30 adoption package:

  • Whale Adoption Certificate, signed by Roger Payne and Iain Kerr
  • Whale Adoption poster/fact sheet with 2015 calendar
  • Voyage of the Odyssey – Acoustic Adventures CD
  • Ocean Alliance Logo 3” diameter sticker
  • Subscription to Whales Tales
  • Two digital (wallpaper) Whale Images

Our Deluxe adoption package includes even more!

  • Everything in the Basic Adoption Package + choose your whale (Owl, Salt, Etch-a-sketch)
  • The Original Classic Album of Whale Recordings – Songs of The Humpback Whale
  • Planet Ocean…What a Notion! Bumper Sticker
  • Unframed Whale Photo Signed by Iain Kerr

And when you contribute to whale adoptions, you contribute to Ocean Alliance’s programs that not only include whale conservation, but also robotics and STEM initiatives – something dad might find pretty interesting.

So go green, and give blue!


Planet Earth Is Blue And There’s Something You Can Do

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

Today is World Oceans Day! We here at Ocean Alliance have made ocean conservation and appreciation – as well as cetacean research – our core mission. After all, our planet is 71% ocean. The oceans are crucial to the survival of not only the human race, but our entire planet.

Here’s a few things you can do on World Oceans Day – and beyond – to make a difference on our blue planet.

-Ditch the plastic. Try the “better bag challenge”- try to make it an entire year without taking a single-use plastic bag from a store. Keep reusable bags in your car, or in your purse, backpack, or briefcase. Look on labels of cosmetics and toiletries for microbeads, and only purchase ones without polymers as ingredients. Drink tap or filtered water in a washable drinking container instead of purchasing bottled water. 8 million metric tons of plastics end up in our oceans every year – do your share to reduce the impact.

-Take a walk or a bike ride instead of driving. Drilling in or near the ocean for fossil fuels not only results in devastating oil spills like 2010’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, but even at its safest, it affects marine species with acoustical sensitivities.

-Help organize or take part in a neighborhood cleanup! Even one hour is a big help. If you’re here in Gloucester, our own staffers at Ocean Alliance clean up every Saturday morning with Clean Gloucester. Plastic litter that gets picked up won’t become part of our ocean plastics problem!

– Consider donating to worthy causes. We won’t toot our own horns too much, but here at Ocean Alliance, we are dedicated to conserving the ocean – through toxicity testing (for instance, we provided the data for The Cove), STEM and robotics programs like SnotBot and our robotics club, and outreach programs like whale adoptions and whale watch partnerships. If you donate to us, you donate to a local non-profit with local, caring staff.

Ocean Alliance CEO Invited to Speak at North Shore Technology Council

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

Last Wednesday, Ocean Alliance’s CEO, Dr. Iain Kerr, was invited to speak at a breakfast function hosted by the North Shore Technology Council at the Danversport Yacht Club. The Council is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote and sustain the growth of technology businesses in and around the area north of Boston.

Iain’s talk, titled “A Whale of a Tale: Using Robotics for Ocean Conservation and STEM Initiatives,”  touched on some of Ocean Alliance’s main focuses, such as robotics programs like SnotBot and the future of citizen science. It also broached other topics such as fisheries & fisheries research, aquaculture, ocean energy and mining, transportation, recreation, communications and pipelines, and pharmaceuticals.

The talk, which was well-received, was a great opportunity for Ocean Alliance to showcase our work and build new partnerships. As our name implies Ocean Alliance – both business and NGO’s need to find ways to collaborate so that humanity can benefit from sustainable ocean development.

“I am of the opinion that the future of humanity is in our oceans, from industry to new technologies and food.  This region should have a Woods Hole north aspect  – developing new resources from the oceans and acting as a catalyst for new careers and business in ocean industries,” Iain stated after the talk concluded.

Our staffer Debby Clement, also attended the talk. “We were in the right place – with a talented audience buzzing with ideas.  New England is blessed with so many engineers – chemical/health/software and hardware professionals who all share a concern about the future – and about protecting one of our greatest assets – the ocean. The shared passion about the collective use of entrepreneurial brain power to find solutions was a joy to feel!  We’re already booking meetings with some about the shared drive to understand the impacts of consumer products and redress the balance towards a more green based economy – using some of our hard data and research.”

Ocean Alliance is looking forward to creating more partnerships with technology and innovative organizations on th North Shore.