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Kathleen Toomey

Spotlight on Interns: Katie Gilbert

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Hosting interns at Ocean Alliance is hugely important to our mission! The work we do simply could not continue if we didn’t nurture a new crop of future scientists, researchers and engineers into the world each year to solve the pressing challenges faced by our oceans.

So in that light, we thought it fitting that each of our interns gets introduced to you and a chance to shine in a spotlight, and as a thanks for all their hard work, with hopefully a bit of a leg-up into their new career. We start off our series with Katie Gilbert.


Name: Katie Gilbert

Studied: Received B.S. in Marine Science Concentration Marine Biology this past May (2015)

Studied at:  University of New England in Biddeford, ME


What brought you to choose to study this subject?

 My family would take trips to the beaches of Cape Cod and southern Maine, where as a kid, I would wade through tide pools exploring the creatures they held. I just loved exploring and spending my time by the water, I was very curious and wanted to know more about it.


Also, around the fifth grade, my family went to Discovery Cove in Florida, where I was given the experience to swim with Bottlenose dolphins.  This is one of my most memorable experiences where I was so moved and amazed by these wonderful creatures.  From then on, I knew I wanted to study the ocean and the life within it, and someday like to find a career in the field of marine biology.


What have you accomplished in your studies thus far?

During my 4 years at the University of New England I got as involved as I could in my major, research, and social activities/clubs on campus. Some major accomplishments include:


I spent the last three years as a research assistant in Dr. Kathryn Ono’s lab, where research focused on pinniped behavior, ecology, and conservation.  I started out helping with a graduate student’s thesis project, by analyzing some of her data and photos of Grey seal pups from Muskeget Island. Then from their I started my own undergraduate research project by conducting a study on the Diet Composition of Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus) in New England from Scat Analysis. Along with the articulation of an Adult Male Grey Seal Skeleton where the completed skeleton is hung for display in the Marine Science Center at UNE. I have also been out in the field on a field research trip to Muskeget Island (Jan. 2014) where I was a participant of research effort to collect Grey seal scat for my research project and help with other research efforts while on the Grey seal breeding island. 


I also spent some time volunteering and gaining experiences in Marine Mammal/Animal Care, where I volunteered at the Marine Animal Rehabilitation and Conservation Center (MARC) (2013-2014).   I received training for Animal Care volunteer at MARC to aid in the rehabilitation and release of Harbor, Harp, and Grey seals and Loggerhead sea turtles. 

During the school year I volunteered one 4 hour shift a week to help with feeds, food & medicine prep, weighing & recording animal notes/records, restraining, cleaning rooms & pools, basic water quality testing, aiding in sea turtle x-rays, and release of cleared seals at beaches. 

Then I spent time educating the public and school groups about MARC and marine mammals, being a Marine Animal Rehabilitation and Conservation Center (MARC) Docent (2014) facilitating educational tours to school and other groups of the role and function of the MARC facility.


This last year at UNE, I presented my research on “Diet Composition of Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus) in New England from Scat Analysis” and the articulation of the Grey Seal skeleton at a few symposiums. The presentations included: the Northeast Undergraduate Research and Development Symposium (NURDS), (March 7 & 8, 2015) and University of New England Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Symposium, (Fall 2014) where I did a Poster Presentation for both. I also presented at the University of New England’s College of Arts and Sciences Student Research and Scholarship Symposium on May 1st, 2015 where I did an oral presentation on the same research stated above.



What’s been your major tasks at Ocean Alliance so far?

  • Helping with Proposal/Research for a whale education box for Surprise Ride Organization
  • Painting the wooden Sperm whale cut-out, to have on display at the Kick starter event and to use for future OA events
  • Making/Designing a Robotics Brochure for OA
  • Making the Kickstarter/Snot Bot Flyer to go onto the 7 Seas Whale Watch Boat
  • Helping Andy test pH probes to determine which was best for Ocean Sentinels Project, and to help edit and read over the drafts of documents for this project.


What have you most enjoyed about working at Ocean Alliance?

Meeting and getting to know the staff and other interns, and getting the opportunity to help with all the projects.  It’s great knowing that the help each of us interns provide goes towards a larger cause to help the whales and the health of the oceans.  For example, helping with the Kickstarter is helping to raise money and awareness for the Snot Bot research, which is future and innovative research.



What have you learned about yourself and your subjects at Ocean Alliance?


What’s it like working for a non-profit compared to studying?

There are similarities between the two, when doing research it takes a lot of time/commitment, dedication, patience, and background work to gather an understanding and knowledge on the topic of research and working at a non-profit I feel it is very similar; it takes patience, time/commitment and hard-work, and background work to get to the point where projects and results happen.


What’s your favorite marine mammal – and why?

This is a very tough and loaded question, especially since I have spent the last few years researching and taking classes that focused on marine mammals. I find all marine mammals interesting to study and learn more about. All have characteristics and behaviors that amaze me. I have to break this question down by saying my favorite Pinniped is the Grey Seal because I have spent the last few years studying and conducting a research project on Grey Seal diet composition in New England. I also helped at a Marine Animal Rehabilitation and Conservation Center and spent time helping to rehabilitate a few Grey seals which was a wonderful opportunity to help with to heal them and release them back to the wild again.  My favorite Cetacean is the Spinner or Atlantic White-sided dolphin, because I love their morphology, and how dolphins are very social animals, which have many behaviors above or under the surface.  


What’s your favorite ocean film – and why?

I like almost every ocean themed film that I have seen, they all have some element to them that I like whether it is just a fun, cute movie like Finding Nemo, to movies that have a message to show the public awareness on an ocean issue, like Dolphin Tale which shows the side of marine animal rehabilitation. I even enjoy documentary movies where I can learn more about life in the ocean, I have watched many over the years at school. 



What do you hope to become when you finish your studies?

I have finished my undergraduate studies, so this summer I became a 7 Seas Whale Watch Intern and Ocean Alliance Intern to gain more experiences in the marine mammal realm and build my resume. I plan to go back to school to get my graduate degree in Marine Biology next fall (Fall 2016) after this gap year, and then my overall career goals are to get a job in marine sciences preferably with marine mammals whether it is working in a research lab, rehabilitation, in the field, or at an aquarium. 


What are your hopes for the future as you look at our world today?

Hope to make the future a better place, and to help learn and research more about the ocean to educate all and help to make a difference. To educate others on the ocean and life within it and how we need to protect and cherish what we have in our vast oceans. 

The Snotbots Will Fly – Thanks to YOU!

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Dear Friends (because that is what you now are),

Roger Payne, staff & volunteers were at our offices at about 1:00pm August 25th as we watched our Kickstarter campaign meet, and then exceed, its goal. The whole room just burst with applause and excitement. It’s been quite a while since our emotions have been this high.

A problem with developing new ways of doing things is that many of us don’t like change, we like what we are comfortable with and that is often the familiar or the old. So we cannot thank you enough for putting us onto this road of discovery that we have no doubt will benefit whales, oceans and humanity.

We hope that you will stay with us now as this work unfolds. We bought my ticket to Argentina (leaving September 19th) a couple of weeks ago, so we can now stop panicking. We will be sending updates from the field including photos. We want to try to do a live link/live broadcast from the field but I am not sure if we will be able to get an internet connection from the beach in Patagonia. As backers you will have exclusive access to this footage & screen saver photos. They are going to be spectacular I guarantee it. I also hope that some of you might want to look at the footage and or behavior we document with a keen eye – as we develop the program we hope to be able to open source some of the data that we collect so that we can make the most of this unique collaborative effort.

Thank you all from the depths of our souls and the depths of the oceans, each and everyone one of you have made a difference to the world that we share today, because you stepped up to the plate and said “I want to do more – I want to play an active role in finding solutions” – Yes thanks to you the SnotBots will Fly. For this and for your enthusiasm we cannot thank you enough.

Dr. Iain Kerr
CEO, Ocean Alliance

An Important Message about Seismic Testing from CEO Iain Kerr

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10 Reasons You’ll Feel Good Joining Team Snotbot

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Our Snotbot Kickstarter is launched and in full swing. It’s an exciting opportunity for Ocean Alliance to again make a splash in the natural world, with drones! And here are some of the reasons why backing us on Kickstarter will make you feel like a million bucks.


  1. It’s tax deductible! We are a 501c3 nonprofit, and your pledge, minus the fair market value of the reward, is deductible on your taxes like any other charity donation! This means you can feel even better about giving.
  2. You help Gloucester stay on the innovation map. Our hometown of Gloucester, MA is undergoing a transition – for centuries, we were a busy fishing port until depletion of stocks  led to a sharp decline in the industry. But Gloucester is not only surviving, it’s blossoming into a new marine-engineering and technology friendly place to run an organization – and we want to continue our goal of turning the iconic Paint Factory into a world-class marine education and research center.
  3. Snotbot is tied in with our robotics program!  On the grounds of our Paint Factory headquarters, we have a robotics laboratory made out of an old shipping container! We provide a weekly robotics meetup called Paint Factory Flyers, and we aim to provide every kid who wants to be involved a way to make their own RC plane, whether or not they have the financial means. Often, we have many children (as young as 6) and teens flying drones in the field! We love getting kids involved with STEM.
  4. You’re helping the whales. Whales are amazing, smart animals – but they’re massively sensitive to ocean acoustics. We aim to see what is stressing them – and in the case of the endangered Southern Right Whale, they can’t afford to be stressed out.
  5. We prove that drones have a positive use. Sometimes, drones and quadcopters are misunderstood or maligned in print. We are here to prove that they have a positive and necessary use in marine sciences and in all types of research.
  6. You get cool stuff in return! We have everything from hoodies, bandanas, and t shirts to interesting rewards like flexidisc recordings of whale songs from the 1970’s!
  7. We are able to quickly do research in a fast-changing climate – this isn’t a five year project, where climate change will outpace our research. We can do this soon, so that the data we get can be used as quickly as possible. If we can
  8. You Make Patrick Stewart happy! He has been a great friend to Ocean Alliance, and has even come on a research expedition! He generously gave us his time for this video, and he also loves drones, and Snotbot!
  9. You provide jobs. Locally, Ocean Alliance provides jobs to the Gloucester area, and during our expeditions, we’ll also need additional help. Keeping STEM jobs local is a huge goal for us, and with Snotbot, we’re on our way.
  10. You become part of the Snotbot team. We will bring you updates before, during, and after our expeditions – with stunning ocean photography caught from drones. We’ll regale you with stories and interact with our backers whenever we can. This is a great opportunity for families to follow a STEM-based excursion and show the next generation that science and engineering are fun and engaging.

Take the Plastic Free July Challenge!

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Here’s a sobering fact: in the first 10 years of this century, more plastic was produced than the entire last century.

And apart from the small amount of plastic which has been incinerated, every piece of plastic which was ever produced still exists on earth somewhere.

This unsustainable and alarming trend has led to some necessary introspection – what are we, as individuals, putting into the plastic waste stream? What is our negative contribution to the environment? It can be hard to measure when we, as consumers, are conditioned to accept a single-use plastic bag for all our purchases, expect our retail items surrounded by plastic packaging, and single-use water, juice, and soda bottles line the walls of every convenience store in America.

This is why a group of concerned folks at the Western Metropolitan Regional Council (WMRC) in Perth, Western Australia started the Plastic Free July Challenge locally 2011. By last year’s challenge, participation had grown to 14,000 individuals, schools, businesses and organizations from 69 countries.

What, exactly, is the Plastic Free July Challenge? The website explains:

The challenge is quite simple. Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during July. “Single-use” includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, plastic packaging…basically anything that’s intended only to be used once and then discarded. If refusing ALL single-use plastic sounds too daunting this time, try the TOP 4 challenge (plastic bags, bottles takeaway coffee cups & straws).

The rules

  1. Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during July.
  2. Remember it’s not going to be easy! It is a challenge, not a competition so don’t worry about being perfect.
  3. Collect any unavoidable single-use plastic you buy. Keep in a dilemma bag and share it with us at the end of the challenge.
  4. It’s up to you regarding how long you participate. You might decide to go plastic-free for a day, a week, a month or longer! However long you choose will still make a contribution.


Our Social Media Manager, KT Toomey, is going to try the challenge. Check up on her progress, and her bag of shame, on our Facebook page this month!

Paint Factory Flyers Robotics Club Heads Outdoors!

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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.

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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?

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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

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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

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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.

The Paint Factory Gets Clean… Clean Utilities!

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If you have been on Rocky Neck over the last 10 days, you may have seen a lot of big trucks heading up and down Horton Street. As part of an EPA funded restoration and remediation project at the Paint Manufactory, we have been digging a clean utility corridor (to carry our utilities – sewer, electricity, water, cable and gas).


A lot of the utilities for the Paint Factory were laid down in the 1920’s or earlier – so with the help of McConnell Enterprises, Nobis and National Grid, we are slowly switching out our utilities.  Until just a couple of months ago the power here was Delta and we just changed it to Wye – prior to the change from Delta, everything here from the lights to our robotics lab had to run though a small transformer.  We did have to have National Grid on site as some of the site records were incomplete and there were concerns as to whether or not the gas line was still live. Luckily, it was not.
Looking for gas... but not fracking!

Looking for gas… but not fracking!

When you dig around an old industrial site like the Paint Factory, you know that you are going to find some surprises. The first surprise was finding a very large, barrel ceiling, double wall brick cistern – this cistern was 16 feet wide, 8 feet long and about 4 feet high. Our guess at this time is that it was a water cistern that was used to feed the steam engine that used to not only run all of the equipment but also heat the buildings. I did crawl into the cistern to take a couple of photos.
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The most interesting thing we found were two stone walls that were about 1 foot under the surface that lead more than 100 feet from one of the brick buildings down the road towards Rocky Neck.  These walls were at least 4 feet high (we did not dig to the very bottom of them) about 8 inches thick and just over 3 feet apart.  If we were in England, I would say they we had found an old Roman aqueduct, but the Romans never made it this far! At the very bottom of this trench we did find the water main. We do not know if the walls were there to protect the water main, or if they served some function before the water main was installed.  Please have a look at the photographs and tell us what you think!
– Iain Kerr, CEO

Adopt A Whale For Mom – Mother’s Day is May 10!

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Mother’s day is fast approaching, and if you’re like many of us, you still have few clues about a meaningful gift for the person who gave you life.

This year, consider giving the gift of a whale adoption from Ocean Alliance. It’s the perfect idea for the mom who has it all. In fact, donation gifts for mothers day are increasingly popular, since they aren’t just another dusty knicknack on the shelf. Making a difference by way of a charitable donation will be a thoughtful gift for mom this year.

Our basic Adoption Package is $30 and includes:

Basic Adoption Package includes:
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

Basic Whale Adoption

Please consider helping our research and local programs by donating today.

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?

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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!

Parley for the Oceans Visits Paint Factory Headquarters

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Earlier this week, Cyrill Gutsch came up to visit the team at Ocean Alliance.  Even though we have been working with Cyrill and his remarkable team from Parley for the Oceans for a couple of years now, this is the first time that Cyrill has come to visit our Paint Factory headquarters. Like many of our other visitors, he got a tour of our facility, including our current robotics lab we utilize until the completion of our buildings. This lab is located at the Paint Factory property, inside a recycled shipping container.

Cyrill’s Team and Iain in our current robotics lab.

Cyrill is the mastermind behind the incredibly successful campaign Raw for the Oceans, with partners including Pharrell William’s, G-Star jeans and Bionic yarn, shown in the animation below.


Cyrill and Ocean Alliance team discussing mutual concerns for the oceans.

Cyrill and Ocean Alliance team discussing mutual concerns for the oceans.


Great to see you in Gloucester, Cyrill, we hope that you will come back soon!

Iain Kerr visits Warner Babcock Institute

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This past Monday, Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr visited the Warner Babcock Institute in Wilmington, MA which is just down the road from our Gloucester headquarters, to meet with his good friend John Warner.

John Warner is one of the founders of green chemistry and is a leader in the field. One of the many subject areas he specializes in is developing less toxic alternatives for a variety of consumer products. John was recently awarded the Perkins Medal, which is considered by many to be the most prestigious award in the field of chemistry.

As we look to understand and curb the flow of environmental toxicants made by humans in to the world’s oceans, the type of work John is doing is essential. The problems our oceans face from pollution are twofold: we need to understand the effects of man-made environmental toxicants on wildlife, and we also need to develop nontoxic alternatives. John is certainly a pioneer in this field.

John and his team developed the 12 principles for Green Chemistry – which are now considered an industry standard.

The 12 Principals of Green Chemistry


It is better to prevent waste than to treat and clean up waste after it is formed.

Synthetic methods should be designed to maximize the incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product.

Whenever practicable, synthetic methodologies should be designed to use and generate substances that possess little or no toxicity to human health and the environment.

Chemical products should be designed to preserve efficacy of the function while reducing toxicity

The use of auxiliary substances (solvents, separations agents, etc.) should be made unnecessary whenever possible and, when used, innocuous.

Energy requirements should be recognized for their environmental and economic impacts and should be minimized. Synthetic methods should be conducted to ambient temperature and pressure.

A raw material or feedstock should be renewable rather than depleting whenever technically and economically practical.

Unnecessary derivatization (blocking group, protection/deprotection, temporary modification of physical/chemical processes) should be avoided whenever possible.

Catalytic reagents (as selective as possible) are superior to stoichiometric reagents.

Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their function they do not persist in the environment and instead breakdown into innocuous degradation products.

Analytical methodologies need to be further developed to allow for real-time in-process monitoring and control prior to the formation of hazardous substances.

Substance and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen so as to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions and fires.

It was a positive, inspiring visit and we hope to be back soon!

Olin Update: Controlled Tests

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The Olin crew has been hard at work over the last few days characterizing and testing their fleet.


The new IRIS+, Morticia, on her maiden flight at Olin College.

On the list has been test flying the new IRIS+, assembling the two new HexH2O Aquacopters, and waiting patiently for the Aquacopter BullFrog to arrive.  The old quadcopters and hexacopters are still undergoing modifications – the last iteration of the waterproof gimbal shield is underway, and the prototypes of a landing mechanism are being developed.

On the software side of things, a different group of Olin students have been collaborating with us for navigation purposes (being able to send a ‘mission’ to a drone and have it execute it), and after spring break it’ll be tested more thoroughly.  The self-written joystick control and simple autonomy programs have also continued to be tested with success!


Jay sitting on the edge of the Large Project Building pool, ready to capture the sound from the rotors of the hexacopter.

Jay sitting on the edge of the Large Project Building pool, ready to capture the sound from the rotors of the hexacopter.


Last, in the past week the crew has been hard at work finishing a paper for the IEEE International Conference on Technologies for Practical Robot Applications (TePRA) in which Olin presents characterization data on the hexacopters and IRIS+ quadcopter.

The results are no less than optimistic – in controlled testing over a silent pool, it was revealed that the vehicles produce extremely quiet sounds – no different than ambient splashing.  This backs up what the group found in the Gulf of Mexico.  Even more promising, the downwash from the rotors is similar to that of ambient ocean breezes – even in the worst case scenario of direct hover about the surface (in reality, the vehicle should never drop below 10 feet above the water).

 The testing rig to capture the downwash of the rotors.

The testing rig to capture the downwash of the rotors.

The Olin group is currently in Spring Break, but upon return will be looking forward to more intensive testing and development of hardware and software systems for the SnotBots.


What do Pharrell, Plastic Ocean Pollution, and Fashion Have in Common?

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What do Pharrell, plastic ocean pollution, and fashion have in common? More than you may think!

This week marked the debut of G-Star clothing’s new RAW collection. While normally Ocean Alliance is not a fashion-forward organization (this may be an understatement if you have visited our Paint Factory headquarters), this line of clothing has us all talking.

Why? Because the denim in these clothes are actually made from recycled ocean plastic. G-Star teamed up with Bionic Yarn and Parley for the Oceans to create this clothing collection, which ranges in price from $65 for a shirt to $390 for a jacket. Music mogul Pharrell Williams is the creative director of Bionic Yarn, and he’s explained why he’s taken on this special project:


Creating jeans from plastics is a multi-step process – the first step, naturally, is retrieving plastic from the ocean – unfortunately, there’s literal tons of it to choose from. Next, the plastic is broken down into tiny chips and from there, further broken down into fibers. Those fibers are then spun into yarn and mixed with cotton. From there, it’s woven or knit into fabric and made into G-star’s RAW for the Oceans line of clothing, like denim jeans and tops, one-piece jumpers, t-shirts, handkerchiefs, and hoodies. Best of all, the mascot, Occotis, is adorable and stylish (as is the model below).


We here at Ocean Alliance love this project – it’s putting the massive, growing problem of plastic ocean pollution to the forefront, and raising awareness in a big way. We hope to see other lines of clothing embrace using Bionic Yarn in the future – it can only get bigger from here!

G. Love and the Whale Guitar

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Last Saturday, some of the Ocean Alliance staffers joined Jennifer Long and the Whale Guitar crew for a night out at the House of Blues. Marine Coordinator Dan Albani, his girlfriend Kristen, Programs Manager Rebecca Siswick Graham, and Robotics Coordinator John Graham were able to attend the G-Love and the Special Sauce concert despite the short notice!

Jen and the Whale Guitar had been tweeting up a storm online to gather interest for the Whale Guitar and for conservation efforts – and Garrett, aka G-Love, was sold on it! Just 24 hours before the event, the musician sent her a private tweet and expressed his interest in the guitar. He invited her to bring it to him at the end of the show and agreed to give it a spin. Our staffers and Jen’s crew even got to hang out in the VIP section while they watched G-Love. John and Rebecca are both from Philadelphia, as is G-Love, who referenced Boston’s earlier Bruins victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.

G-Love and the Special Sauce played their signature hybrid mix of hip hop, blues, and jazz for two hours of what Dan described as “non stop entertainment,” and his set included classics like “My Baby’s Got Sauce” and “Cold Beverage”. The show ended with G-Love inviting the opening act on stage for a group cover of Weezer’s “Say it Ain’t So”, which was sung in equal parts by G-Love and the crowd. It was an awesome end to the performance which left fans whistling, and clapping even after G. Love and crew left the stage.


After the show ended, the Ocean Alliance staff and the Whale Guitar crew were ushered across to the backstage entrance and plopped down at the front of the line. Jen and the Whale Guitar (which was designed by William Schaff, and built/luthiered by Rachel Rosenkrantz) led the way, with WHALE! emblazoned across the front of the guitar case in neon yellow, which drew a lot of attention from curious bystanders.




As Dan Albani described, “unexpectedly, G-Love popped out of the door behind us, almost walked into Jen, looked down and asked what was in the case. Jen explained the whale guitar, and face lit up and he nodded with recognition. At that point, he asked Jen to pop open the case and take out the guitar. While Jen and her husband prepared the guitar, G-Love went and met with the long line of fans, some of which shouted inquiries about the guitar towards our group. With the guitar hooked up, G-Love slipped the strap over his shoulder, shredded for a couple minutes, and exclaimed ‘This feels REALLY nice, actually! Very NICE!'”



G. Love added his signature to the Whale Guitar and said goodbye. Our staffers had a fantastic night, it was a pleasure to watch the Whale Guitar being used for its intended purpose, and we hope to join Jen and her crew for the next signing! It’s clear that many artists are eager to promote conservation efforts, and that Ocean Alliance and The Whale Guitar Project have the potential for a great partnership. We are excited to be a part of the Whale Guitar’s journey!

– OA Staff

These students thought that whale snot was gross and were very aware of their environment!

Inspiring the Next Generation of Conservation Engineers

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One of the core missions of our new Robotics Program is to pursue education outreach opportunities. I
gave a talk on March 3rd about my career path as an engineer and my new job as the Robotics Program
Director to 4th grade students. I engaged with 96 very excited students at Brookside Elementary at
Oak Park USD, which I later found out, is one of the highest performing school districts in the nation.
These students thought that whale snot was gross and were very aware of their environment!

My talk covered a wide range of topics from how I got interested in engineering to how much oxygen
the oceans produce. These students asked a lot of interesting questions – Do you like working in teams
more than by yourself, can you figure out how healthy I am if you take a sample of my snot? Not only did
they walk away with a sense of how large the ocean is and how much it supports us, but they also got
to ask questions about a field that most of them don’t really know about– robotics engineering. Growing
up, my sister (who’s fifteen years older than me) used to come to school and do read-aloud days, and
after talking to many of these instructors I realized that it’s actually very rare for young professionals to
come and interact with the students. These 4th graders found it easier to relate to me than many of their
teachers, and I think many of the teachers appreciated the different perspective I brought to the table.

One of the key takeaways I got was a sense of how our public schools are trying to incorporate the
Common Core– a sort of set of guidelines on how to change the curriculum and teaching methods
to focus on developing reasoning skills. I won’t go into detail here, but it was interesting that this was
another school district similar to the one I had grown up in– high achieving school system with very few
elementary and middle school students interested in engineering because most of their parents and
role models were not in STEM fields. Although things like LittleBits are now available so that younger
students can get involved with tinkering, there are a lot of challenges for many instructors because of the
fairly large learning curve to understand the advances in technology.

I think there is a huge opportunity for OA’s Robotics Program to inspire the next generation of scientists
and engineers to pursue an interest in using technology to help preserve and protect the natural world.
I’m hoping to stay in touch with many of these schools and help develop better engineering education
programs that tie together real-world relevance with ecosystems and robotics.

– Adela Wee, Olin College Engineer

Ocean Alliance and Earth Easy Team Up for Orca Soap

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This week, we are please to announce that Earth Easy Soap has launched a new product that will help the environment – and Ocean Alliance!

Earth Easy was founded in 2000 by Greg Seaman, who was inspired to live an off-grid life in the Pacific Northwest decades ago. Greg’s goal was to “encourage, inspire and inform people about the benefits of a simpler, less material lifestyle, and the importance of protecting our natural environment as the source of our well-being”. The Earth Easy website is chock full of helpful and free how-to guides for healthy and sustainable living, as well as offering products ranging from gardening to water conservation and non-toxic pest control. With his family, Greg has built his business into a thriving enterprise with dozens of seasonal employees.

Their new soap, the Orca bar, is a simple, pure, 100% unscented soap bar that is perfect for sensitive skin. It is handcrafted, long-lasting, and all-natural. It contains none of the chemicals or exfoliating plastic ‘microbeads’ that contribute to water pollution. It is made of responsibly harvested palm oil right here in the USA, and at $5.95, it won’t break the bank.

And even better? 100% of the net profits will be going to Ocean Alliance! This is a win for the oceans, for the environment, and for consumers.

Orca bars can be purchased here on the Earth Easy website. Your skin, the Orcas, and the oceans will thank you – and so will we!

Update from Olin College: Spring Semester, Snow, and SnotBot

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If you haven’t yet heard about SnotBot, it has been an ongoing partner project with Ocean Alliance and Olin College of Engineering in Needham, MA. The goal – to create a robotic research assistant for field research voyages that can safely and efficiently collect whale blow – has been being tackled by several groups of research students over the last year. The fleet, a set of small multirotor drones affectionately named SnotBots, are equipped with various sensors in order to run human-program missions or ‘think’ for themselves during autonomous missions.

Throughout the Fall Semester, the SnotBot team at Olin College was working on getting a new team up to speed and setting up for this semester. We spent those twelve weeks gathering documentation sources, writing papers, downloading new software, redesigning SnotBot landers, outfitting SnotShot with sensors- the works!

Now, the team is in a place to hit the ground running this semester with the following goals in mind:

  • Develop reliable remote control systems (so a human pilot may override the autonomy at any time)
  • Develop reliable point-to-point mission navigation (so a SnotBot can be told where to go, and actually get there to collect data)
  • Develop a first round of visual navigation systems (so a SnotBot can look around and determine what is something interesting to navigate to)
  • Create a waterproof gimbal housing
  • Create a launcher/lander mechanism (so when launching from or landing on a boat, the SnotBot can reliably/accurately take off and land without human assistance)

Since the start of the semester, the team has managed to set up a new ground control station, which can be used on any laptop running a Windows Operating system, with a joystick controller – now flying the drones will be a lot like flying in a simulator, or flying a starship in a video game. The basic planner, Mission Planner by Ardupilot, will take in the data from the SnotBot brain, and send back control signals during flight. The team can write their own missions, control signals, or commands within the program – or for more control and accuracy, in self-authored Python scripts. Benchtop tests of a program to launch the SnotBot, hover, and land are promising.




Views of our benchtop test location, and our new ground control station running Mission Planner by Ardupilot, our self-authored Python scripts, and interfacing with a normal joystick controller.



As the snow fell in New England, the team received two new software members who will be working on computer vision tasks, and communications protocol. The computer vision team has already been able to use computer packages to identify QR codes, which we will use as fiducials – signposts for the SnotBot – during point-to-point navigation tests using the cameras mounted to the chassis.



Team member Jay (‘17) holds up a QR code for identification as Victoria (‘16) snaps a quick photo. The lines you see are tracking matching keypoints on the QR code. These will later be used to help identify the angle, distance, and orientation to the fiducials on the ground during flights.



To protect those cameras, our mechanical team is wrapping up design work from last semester on a waterproof gimble mount, that could be used on any general chassis with small modification. Right now, the gimbal is ready for some dunk tests, and SnotBot Gray is up for modification. New legs will be reprinted for Gray to accommodate for the size of the new gimbal housing.


The ‘Bubble’ that will protect the cameras on future SnotBots.


As you look forward to the next weeks, expect some videos of autonomous test flights, flyovers with our SnotShot, new sensors, new SnotBot fleet members, and more!

Save A Whale! While we “Save the Whales!”

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Last week, representatives from NOAA’s Whale Entanglement Response Network ventured out to the Paint Factory to meet with the Ocean Alliance team. This meeting was the culmination of many conversations between NOAA and Ocean Alliance, but it officially marked the beginning of our participation in the Whale Entanglement Response Network. David Morin, NOAA’s Northeast Region Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator sat down with our team to discuss whale entanglement and subsequently, disentanglement, as a whole – an introductory course to my own unrealized life’s dream. Needless to say, I was wicked excited.

If you’re unaware of whale entanglement, it is an unfortunately too common problem where a whale is caught up in something that binds them – causing severe injury or death in many cases. In what do whales become entangled, you may ask? David Morin made it pretty clear that over his career, he has seen whales tangled up in just about everything. Most common however, is any type of line or equipment hanging vertically in the water column.

The NOAA Whale Entanglement Program is primarily composed of a volunteer response network including both individuals and organizations who work collaboratively with NOAA to quickly respond to entanglement cases. In such cases, time is of the essence, as the longer a whale is entangled, the more likely it is that it will not survive, even after successfully being disentangled. Therefore, most responders have fast boats with crews ready at a moment’s notice. Throughout the whole presentation, I couldn’t help but think of Revolutionary War Minutemen combined with the training I associated with the Navy Seals. As the presentation went on, it became more and more clear that this Minute Man daydream was more like reality than I would have figured.

While the Whale Entanglement Response Network is a global program, the network on the east coast of the United States is a pioneer in the field. So why is Ocean Alliance becoming involved? It turns out there is a small hole in the networks coverage along the east coast, a hole that is centered around Cape Ann. Member organizations like the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown, MA and the Marine Mammals of Maine response teams, have a several hour ride ahead of them before they could reach an entangled whale sighted off of Cape Ann. In that time, the entangled whale -thrashing and twisting for its life- can cover quite the distance, increasing the area that the response team must search.

So, with Ocean Alliance joining the network, using our own response boat we could get out to a sighted whale in half the time as CCS, possibly even quicker. At this stage, we do not have the required training to assist in a disentanglement, so if we were called on, our role would be to standby, mark the location of the whale, and document the details of the case. However, I know that I will be signing up for the next round of training at CCS, in order to develop the skills and knowledge required to disentangle a whale.

Since the beginning of the “Save the Whales!” movement, we have been at the vanguard, pushing for the salvation of cetacean species as a whole, whether from whaling or toxic ocean pollution. However, rarely have we had the opportunity to save a specific whale, one with a name and a story. Now, through this program we will get that opportunity, an opportunity that I know will be a life changing experience for both myself and the whale.

– Dan Albani, Marine Coordinator

Iain Kerr Attends Dedication of Leonard Aube Way at Port of Los Angeles

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I was recently invited to the dedication of the Leonard Aube Way & AltaSea preview at the Port of Los Angeles, CA. Even though my departure from Boston was a late Sunday night during one of our crazy winter storms, this was an event I could not miss.

I first met Leonard Aube over 17 years ago. At the time, he was the director of the California Science Center where I spoke at the Los Angeles premiere of the IMAX film WHALES. Leonard and I have been friends ever since. For over 20 years, Leonard has been the proverbial Energizer bunny and bright light in the non-profit world. I cannot tell you how many lives Leonard has changed for the positive over the last two decades (it is most likely in the tens of thousands), but I can tell you with great certainty that he changed the future for Ocean Alliance and my life – all for the better. Leonard was the catalyst behind the $2 million donation from the Annenberg Foundation to purchase the Tarr and Wonson Paint Manufactory, with the goal of turning this space into not only Ocean Alliance’s office headquarters, but also an Oceanographic Research Education and Innovation center on the Gloucester waterfront.

It was close to my heart, then, to see Leonard in LA and be introduced to the AltaSea project. If you replace the name AltaSea with Ocean Alliance you would not have to change much more: AltaSea is a ground-breaking public-private partnership bringing together the world’s leading scientists, educators and business innovators at a unique, state-of-the-art ocean-based campus at the Port of Los Angeles. To quote Wallis Annenberg:

AltaSea will be a dynamic and interactive space dedicated to finding solutions to humanity’s great challenges, while creating an environment that will foster a new generation of scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs dedicated to securing our future and the health of the ocean.

Annenberg Foundation Chairman of the Board, President and CEO Wallis Annenberg

Annenberg Foundation Chairman of the Board, President and CEO Wallis Annenberg


It was very exciting for me to be at this event, and to engage in so many conversations about the value of our oceans and the importance of NGO’s, businesses, educators and innovators all working together for a sustainable future. The principle difference is that the AltaSea project has a 32 acre campus and a $217 million dollar budget, while our Gloucester headquarters is a 1 acre campus and $8 million budget (of which we still have $4 million left to raise). I will admit at one point in time an image of Mike Meyers and Mini Me did cross my mind as I was introduced to this project and thought of our own efforts on the Gloucester waterfront.The day’s agenda included the dedication of a road (Leonard Aube Way) in recognition of all that Leonard has done over the last 20 years and a preview of the vision for AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles.

Leonard Aube – photographing crowd

Leonard Aube – photographing crowd

I’d like to tell you what I think Leonard Aube Way is: not just a road on the AltaSea campus, but it also represents hard work, humanity, compassion, dedication, and the vision, drive and unrelenting determination to make a real difference in this world. There is no doubt in my mind, nor in the minds of the over 500 people who were at the dedication that, this is the Leonard Aube Way and the world is a far far better place for having Leonard in it.

Leonard – we consider ourselves lucky to be one of the many who have been guided and nurtured by you.

OK Gloucester, back to work – we need to raise another $4 million to finish our Oceanographic Research Education and Innovation center on the Gloucester waterfront and show these people on the West Coast that we to can follow the Leonard Aube Way.


 Did I mention that Leonard is also an amazing photographer? Here is a photo he took of me while we were filming the Explore video Wild Dolphins

A still from Humpback Whales, now in IMAX theaters.

Iain Kerr Attends Premier of IMAX Film ‘Humpback Whales’

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Earlier this week, I was invited to the San Diego premiere of the new IMAX film Humpback Whales, hosted at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego. The film is a collaborative project between MacGillivray Freeman Films and Pacific Life. The introduction to the film was made by Ocean Alliance’s founder and president, Roger Payne. Roger and his work was referenced a number of times during the film. Interestingly enough, back in 1989, Roger and Ocean Alliance co-produced, co-wrote, and co-directed the IMAX film WHALES, narrated by our good friend Patrick Stewart.

Right out of the gate, it was great to hook up with old friends like Dr. Fred Sharpe who was featured in WHALES and now Humpback Whales. It was also a delight to meet up with an assortment of scientists who were at the premiere, including Dr. John Hildebrand, who runs the SCRIPPS Whale Acoustic Lab

From Left to Right: Dr. and Mrs. John Hildebrand, Dr. Fred Sharpe, Iain Kerr

From Left to Right: Dr. and Mrs. John Hildebrand, Dr. Fred Sharpe, Iain Kerr


As a small child I lived on Coronado Island, near San Diego, for a few years – so the real treat for me on this evening was that a good friend of the Kerr family for over 50 years, Blossom Sanger, was able to accompany me to the premiere.

Blossom Sanger and Iain Kerr

Blossom Sanger and Iain Kerr


I take my hat off to MacGillivray Freeman Films and Pacific Life for taking on the challenge of making this remarkable film. If you have ever tried to shoot a photo of a whale with a regular camera, you can only imagine how hard it is to use a camera the size of a small suitcase. Two minutes of 70mm film run through the IMAX film camera at a cost of over $2,000 per roll of film – so as soon as you start shooting you are majorly impacting the film budget and running out of film. With an IMAX film, the camera also can’t pan and zoom as you might with a normal camera – or you will have the misfortune of making the audience feel sick.

Humpback Whales was a spectacular film, must-see for all whale lovers. With shoots in locations like the Kingdom of Tonga, Alaska and Hawaii, the movie is a tour de force of humpback whale habitats, lifestyles and threats. I was most impressed by the breathtaking underwater footage, shot principally by Howard Hall – absolutely stunning.

The problem that all of us have in the whale and ocean conservation movement from time to time is getting across the immense size of these magnificent animals. No matter how big your TV screen is, it is hard to understand the perspective of an animal that is at least 48 to 62 feet long, sometimes even more, and weighs over 40 tons. This is where the IMAX film format excels – as you sit in your chair watching Humpback Whales, you are literally swimming with whales – without getting wet.  The film opens nationwide today (Friday 13th) including at the Museum of Science and the Boston Aquarium.  Don’t Miss it.


– Iain Kerr, CEO.

The video below is the trailer for the IMAX film WHALES, from 1989, featuring Roger Payne.

A Big Thank You To Amy Kerr

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Nonprofits are built on the backs of the staff, volunteers, interns and board members, people who give it their all with far less recognition or compensation than they deserve.

Moving from the woods of Lincoln, MA to the Gloucester waterfront was a big change for Ocean Alliance. We had been in our Lincoln offices for over 35 years, so the move to Gloucester was overwhelming on many levels – to this day we are still unpacking boxes.

I like to say that we are a 43 year old start up, since the move to Gloucester for us was not just a move in location, but a move in a new direction for the organization. One thing we knew almost nothing about – and did nothing with prior to our move – was social media, yet clearly we needed a way to let both our new community and old friends know what was going on with the organization. As we settled into our new home in Gloucester we did not have a social media plan or budget – so it was going nowhere. 

When you have lived with someone for over 20 years, you think that you know them. I will admit that my wife Amy surprised me one day almost 2 years ago when she said, “You have to get going with Social Media. I’m willing to pick up the reins.” Amy is not a technology-focused person or a whale person, she is an artist. Those of you that know her know that she is deeply committed to the environment. For example, Amy started her own group, Clean Gloucester, that meets every weekend spring, summer, and fall to collect litter around the city.

Amy has supported me and guided me through thick and thin over the last 20-plus years. That said, taking over the social media aspect of Ocean Alliance was not a role that she had trained for, or (dare I say) dreamed of. The rest of this story is easy for me to tell, as our social media pages speak for themselves. Amy did not do a good job – she did a great job. She excelled in this role. Starting at roughly 500 followers when she picked up the reins, we now have almost 10,000 followers from around the globe on our Facebook page alone, and many thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram as well.

Amy gave far more than the 10 hours a week that she planned on. More important to the organization and to myself, however, was the leadership role she played with the staff and volunteers and the style she gave our social media presence. There’s an old saying that good interviews come not from the interviewee, but from the interviewers who ask the right questions and know how to get the story out of people.  Amy knew how to get the story out of people, whether it be hard science or trivia. She gave our Social Media great balance and perspective. Hers was not a voice of despair as to the plight of our oceans, but a voice of concern, reason and hope. Instead of pessimism towards the ecological damage done to the oceans, she instead provided suggestions for making a difference to our followers.

Clearly I married this woman because I think that she is remarkable. While Friday the 30th of January was her last day as Ocean Alliance’s Social Media Manager, she has proved to me once again how remarkable she is, and how we can all swim into deeper waters that we might be comfortable with and in doing so, affect real and positive change. Thank you, Amy, for giving Ocean Alliance a powerful platform to speak from and for giving voice to the animals who cannot speak in their own defense.

We are grateful beyond measure. 

– Iain Kerr, CEO, Ocean Alliance