Dr. Roger Payne

The Biggest Threat of All

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by Roger Payne

It is generally accepted by scientists that the worst threat humanity faces, and has ever faced, is global warming.  So widespread is this assumption that I suspect anyone suggesting a different worst-threat would be dismissed out of hand. Nevertheless, I have long believed that ocean acidification is a worse threat than global warming, simply because the time it will take for ocean acidification to reach a point where it can wreak its maximum havoc is apparently much shorter than the time it will take for global warming to raise the temperature of the earth enough to unleash its worst effects. (Ocean acidification is estimated to require decades to do its worst, whereas Global warming is estimated to require a century or centuries.) The reason for focusing on the oceans is that they are the principle force that stabilizes the conditions on this planet that enable life. So even if you live at the center of this continent, say, in Kansas, and have never even seen the ocean, it’s a fair bet that if the oceans die you will die too, because of the loss of stability in the natural world that surrounds you.

We have all heard that global warming is largely the result of burning fossil fuels and that humans have already caused the greatest increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) in nearly 3 million years (and probably much longer, although that can’t be confirmed until several gaps in the temperature record get filled in).

Global warming is caused by CO2trapping heat, whereas ocean acidification is caused by CO2combining chemically with water to produce carbonic acid—a reaction that produces highly reactive hydrogen ions that combine readily with the very chemicals that shellfish and corals need to make their protective coverings. When ocean acidity is increased it becomes increasingly difficult or impossible for shellfish to secrete their shells and corals to form reefs. However, these structures are what protect molluscs and corals from an ocean’s worth of crafty, awe-inspiring, sometimes microscopic, predators.

Although global warming is caused by CO2trapping heat, and ocean acidification is caused by CO2combining chemically with water to produce carbonic acid, there is a third problem that is caused when the interiors of living cells are exposed to carbonic acid. This problem is called metabolic drag.

A great deal of research in the past 30 years has refined our understanding of the effects of CO2on global warming but research on ocean acidification has been under-funded and lags far behind. However, an even greater hole in our understanding of how the global buildup of CO2affects all life are the consequences of CO2entering live cells and increasing their acidity.

Very recent research shows that the higher the CO2concentration in a cell, the more it affects such important cellular functions as oxygen transport and protein synthesis. Furthermore, in dealing with these effects the organism has to use energy it would otherwise have available for doing, well… everything else it does. The result is a reduction in vigor, which, even if it doesn’t kill a cell outright (or the owner of that cell), makes cells and their owners more susceptible to a long list of stresses that reduce any organism’s fitness (and often kill it following a suitable delay). This process is called metabolic drag.

The worst effect of CO2on humans will not be the flooding of coastal cities caused by melt-water from glaciers and ice caps, or the increase in extreme weather events. Far worse damage will be caused by changes in the courses and strengths of oceanic and atmospheric currents that will move the boundaries of the habitats within which animals and plants can live and crops can grow, poleward by tens, hundreds and in some cases even thousands of miles. Such shifts will take decades to complete during which the cells within all ocean life will be experiencing a kind of chemical chaos from the increased CO2 and carbonic acid inside them.

The warming of this planet, along with the behavioral processes I have described, takes place much more slowly than do the fatal effects of ocean acidification. But acids don’t mess around; even very modest increases in acidity can weaken microscopic plants and zooplankton. That’s because the more acidic the seawater, the more species it kills, and the quicker it does so.

Although zooplankton are tiny, their importance is massive: for they are the food of the small fish, that are food of the larger fish, that are the food for the fish we depend on. So when a plankton species dies, its food chain dies, and the victims may include people who depended on the fish that lived at the top of that plankton’s pyramid.

Unfortunately, even the most important plankton species turn out to be so little-known that almost no one can recognize or name them. An example is the pteropods—a group of planktonic species that are major food sources for many species of ocean fish, as well as for baleen whales. Even their common names: sea butterflies and sea angels, are unfamiliar to most biologists. They are tiny, free-swimming, open-ocean snails and sea slugs, that are present in staggering numbers, worldwide, and at all latitudes. They are usually found less than 500 meters below the surface and are most abundant over continental shelves, where they form dense groups—a behavior that whales exploit to capture them. It is because of the staggering abundance of some of these little-known species that it is sometimes said that they control ocean productivity.

93% of pteropods have shells; the remaining 7% lack them. The shelled species are vulnerable to ocean acidification. Exposure to seawater at acidity levels that the oceans are expected to reach by 2050 dissolve the shells of pteropods completely—which is fatal to them.

We may get used to (become inured to?) global warming, ocean acidification, and metabolic drag, but then, more research soon appears that offers a yet bleaker future, and underlines even more clearly the urgency of the need to act. And sure enough, just this week, a new threat was revealed in a paper by a group in Hawaii that studied the effects of the ultraviolet in sunlight on the more than 8 billion tons of plastics that humanity has produced since we started manufacturing it in the 1950s. (Yes, billion with a “b,” and yes, tons—in fact, metric tons, each of which is 2,200 pounds, not a measly 2000). The group in Hawaii studied the effects on seven kinds of plastics of exposure for several days to UV light, both in air and in water. Their sample included the most abundant plastic polymer: polyethylene (the polymer found in more than a third of all types of plastic). The group analyzed the gases that the plastics released, discovering thereby that the breakdown products of all seven of the plastics they tested produce greenhouse gases (principally methane, which is 30 times more powerful in trapping heat than CO2and persists in the atmosphere for centuries). They also found that the most abundant plastics, the polyethylenes, produce the most greenhouse gases by far.

All of the plastics tested also release ethylene—a gas that is the second most abundant hydrocarbon pollutant in the atmosphere and that is implicated in the creation of Carbon monoxide.

These rather grim results led the authors of the paper to conclude that: “Due to the longevity of plastics and the large amounts of plastic persisting in the environment, questions related to the role of methane and ethylene global budgets should be prioritized and addressed by the scientific community.” That is scientist-speak for… “Uh Oh, World; this looks serious.”

It is surprising that a problem that seems so obvious and was hiding in plain sight has been almost completely ignored until now, but it is always surprising how often that is the case. Furthermore, the contribution of the gases that we now know are released by deteriorating plastics has never yet been included in any climate models.

It is clear that global warming, ocean acidification, and metabolic drag are a triple threat. However, they are a triple threat of which most people are unaware and whose name most people don’t even know.  But knowing a name is not enough; we need to understand what causes them if we are to stop the problem.

It is well to note that global warming, ocean acidification and metabolic drag are not causes, they are symptoms. Their main, underlying cause is the burden that CO2places on all life—the name for which is “the carbon burden.”

So… my concern as to whether ocean acidification or global warming is the bigger threat seems misplaced; both are symptoms of the carbon burden, though ocean acidification may become intolerable soonest. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the biggest threat that we, along with all life on earth face is not just something called global warming, or ocean acidification or metabolic drag, but the mutually self-reinforcing, combined threat that is the sum of those three threats, a sum that is called the carbon burden. It is the carbon burden that is the biggest threat, but even though it is the biggest threat we face we don’t yet understand its full dimensions.

As Carl Safina put it so well; [ref.]

“It is and always has been about carbon. We need to place carbon back in the center of the equation. From atmosphere to ocean to cell, the carbon burden is the problem… and the more we learn, the more its dimensions appear ever more staggering.”

So how surprising: our greatest threat is not the economy, or congress, or the liberal agenda or the conservative agenda, or the nanny state, or terrorists, or the national debt, or the costs of the perpetual war on terror, or the ebola virus, or whether our president gets to build his wall, or no gun laws, or even, dare I say it… all-out nuclear war. In spite of how ghastly the devastation may be from any of those causes, time is likely, eventually, to reverse the misery they create. No… the main threat is not humans versus humans—us vs them. The worst threat comes when we trigger the mass destruction of the rest of life—the non-human species on which we are utterly dependent. And the most likely way we can achieve that threat is not through violent acts of aggression, but by failure to stop the slow and ponderous but effective imposition of the carbon burden on all life, simply because the carbon burden is such an effective way to devastate life on earth.

If the carbon burden is the greatest threat, what caused it? We caused it. In fact we’re still causing it; it’s our worst own-goal—a self-inflicted wound that we must staunch before we waste any more time or energy or treasure doing anything else. As Pogo, a beguiling cartoon character of the 1950s said; “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

We may be our own worst enemy, but we’re also our best hope. There are many things each of us can do, and if enough of us do them, it can make a difference. — Iain Kerr



“No Place for a Mere Man” by Roger Payne

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The Elephant and Whale Screens     Roger Payne and Daphne Sheldrick in front—Nov 24, 2010

Back in 2010 I was invited by the filmmaker Jin Tatsumura, the dearest of men, to go to Japan and give a talk along with Daphne Sheldrick, founder of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi—a haven for orphaned, east African wildlife, particularly elephants.  Our talks would take place at the Miho Museum—the dream of Mihoko Koyama, after whom it is named. She and her daughter Hiroko Koyama commissioned it, and it was designed by the architect I.M. Pei who called it his Shangri La. It is an architectural tour de force built in the wild, nearly vertical, mountainous, forested terrain that is near Kyoto.

One purpose of our talks would be to discuss one of the main exhibits—the Elephant and Whale Screens (1795) attributed to the 18th century master, Ito Jakuchu. Of course, there are no elephants in Japan but in 1729 when Jakuchu was 13, one was brought from Vietnam to Kyoto and shown to the emperor. If Jakuchu saw it, many years went by before he painted an elephant, and in his two most famous pictures of elephants they are white. Real white elephants are very rare but the other errors in those two pictures suggest that he simply forgot that elephants are grey. When he painted an animal that was easily available to him, such as a rooster, his painting was both the essence of roosterness and showed the rooster’s true form.

Whales are abundant off the coast of Japan but a common error in Jakuchu’s times was to give whales fish fins. However, the fact that the fish-finned creature in the screens is spouting forces us to conclude that it’s a whale. As the old whalers said so well; “A whale is a spouting fish.”

Jakuchu painted only the whale’s back, but if we use the elephant as a yardstick we can see that it’s a big whale, so he probably meant it to be a blue whale—the apparent singleness and height of the spout supports that supposition.  It seems likely that Jakuchu intended the screens to show the largest creatures of land and sea—the message being to anyone who saw the picture hanging in any space; “Strength is present; all is safe here.”

But what did he want us to believe about what these giants were doing? Both are immobile; the elephant is lying down on what seems to be the top of a bluff overlooking the sea. It is facing the whale which cannot be moving forward (if it were it would hit the underwater base of the bluff or the beach itself). Yet the whale is spouting and the elephant is raising its trunk high. Both gestures are usually accompanied by loud sounds. Is Jakuchu implying that these two giants are conversing?

Years ago, I would have said; “Nonsense; whales and elephants in their own elements can’t realistically be expected to hear each other more than a few meters away. Sounds lose too much energy as they pass from the air into the water, or from the water into the air. But then Katy Payne discovered that elephants are very talkative but speak mostly at frequencies too low for humans to hear. They are, nevertheless, very talkative and in social groups they make many sounds much of the time. They are immersed in a rumbling social world. She also showed that they speak loudly enough to hear each other for several kilometers. Her work attracted other scientists who showed that their infrasonic calls travel not just through the air but through the ground and that listening elephants also sense such vibrations through their feet.

I had calculated that before the ocean was filled with the noise humans generate, the sounds made by blue whales could have been heard across entire oceans—a theory since confirmed by others.

A corollary to this is that it is reasonable to assume blue whales must also be able to communicate through the crust of the Earth, the rock of the sea floor. That could be a big advantage for long distance communication since rock conducts sounds faster than water does and when you make sounds underwater over a continuous rock floor some of the energy of your sounds will get into the rock, whether or not you intend them to.

Elephants and whales both live very social lives. Both have large brains and as such seem to be the most likely potential communicants to have either the ability or the interest to trade news about ocean life and sea life. So I suspect that Jakuchu’s screens in the Miho museum depict more than just the planet’s biggest land and sea creatures. I suspect he may have been suggesting that life on land and life in the sea inform each other of what’s up in the other’s world.

But that seems Pretty far-fetched. After all, what information could a whale give an elephant about the sea that would concern the elephant, or vice versa? Well, how about the whale saying the equivalent of; “Where’s the food I used to find here? The water tastes awful; stop messing up the water!”

It wouldn’t be a dumb request; whales are used to rearranging seascapes—feeding grey whales root up the sea floor by making bathtub-sized holes in the mud—rather the way pigs root up soil. Was Jakuchu alluding to how land animals and sea animals might communicate so as to cooperate in keeping the earth habitable? OK, most unlikely, given that such ideas were rare in Jakuchu’s time. However, back then, although people had very incomplete ideas of what caused what, they were already learning how to use organic mixtures of microbes to restore the fertility of soils. How intriguing, given that another great interest of the Koyama family is permaculture—something they were advancing long before they acquired the Jakuchu screens.

I still suppose that one of Jakuchu’s main motives was simply to depict the biggest land and the biggest sea creatures. However, any great artist knows that everyone loves a painting that tells a good story. Maybe he intended that the elephant and the whale were having a chat, each telling the other stories… hanging out. If so, the late Lyall Watson, a friend from my days of attending International Whaling Commission meetings, claimed to have witnessed the very thing Jakuchu’s screens depict. He described it in his book, Elephantoms.

Near the end of the book, Watson goes in search of a female elephant whom he has learned is the last remaining elephant in a region of the South African, Cape coast called Knysna —a place in which Watson spent his summers as a child. By sheer luck he finds this last living elephant of the clan he had known in his youth, but he finds her in a totally uncharacteristic place. She is standing at the edge of the sea, looking towards a blue whale that has come close to shore—a totally uncharacteristic place to see a blue whale. Lyle assumes that the whale is also a female because it is so big (female baleen whales are bigger than males).

Let us suspend our disbelief for a moment—not worry whether some of Lyle Watson’s assumptions are wrong, or even whether his account is slightly manicured—he tells a compelling story with words, just as Jakuchu did with paints.

After feeling a kind of throbbing in the air, he guesses it to be the whale’s infrasound and expresses his surprise at finding the last elephant of Knysna, the matriarch, here. He writes:

“She was here because she no longer had anyone to talk to in the forest. She was standing here on the edge of the ocean because it was the next, nearest, and most powerful source of infrasound. The underrumble of the surf would have been well within her range, a soothing balm for an animal used to being surrounded, submerged, by low and comforting frequencies, by the lifesounds of a herd, and now this was the next-best thing!

“My heart went out to her. The whole idea of this grandmother of many being alone for the first time in her life was tragic, conjuring up the vision of countless other old and lonely souls. But just as I was about to be consumed by helpless sorrow, something even more extraordinary took place…

“The throbbing was back in the air. I could feel it, and I began to understand why. The blue whale was on the surface again, pointed inshore, resting, her blowhole clearly visible. The Matriarch was here for the whale! The largest animal in the ocean and the largest living land animal were no more than a hundred yards apart, and I was convinced that they were communicating! In infrasound, in concert, sharing big brains and long lives, understanding the pain of high investment in a few precious offspring, aware of the importance and the pleasure of complex sociality, these rare and lovely great ladies were commiserating over the back fence of this rocky Cape shore, woman to woman, matriarch to matriarch, almost the last of their kind.

“I turned, blinking away the tears, and left them to it. This was no place for a mere man…”

Roger Payne

Doing What Really Matters, by Roger Payne

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Donald Trump’s nomination of climate change denier Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Administration is grotesque. Confirmation of Pruitt would threaten the world with the most disastrous and lasting damage that the Trump administration is likely to be able to create. This country needs an EPA Administrator whose rulings are based on science not on the lobbying agendas of special interests.

Of the trepidations that are expressed about a Trump presidency almost all concern its impacts on just one species… ours. However, the overwhelmingly most important and lasting consequences of the next 4-8 years will be the impact of Trump’s policies on the rest of life on earth (euphemistically referred to as: “the environment”).

As I have stated before, a strong argument can be made that the most consequential scientific discovery of the past 100 years is not E=mc2, or plate tectonics, or the structure of DNA, or decoding the human Genome, or the threat of global warming, or the engineering advances that put a man on the moon; it is the discovery that our species is utterly interdependent with a broad array of other species, each one of which interdepends with a somewhat different collection of species. What makes this discovery so consequential is that unless we stop our destruction of the rest of life on earth we have no future—i.e., unless we make conservation of life the primary consideration of all of our actions our children and grandchildren—yours and mine—won’t make it.

It is possible, though painful, to imagine ways in which we can endure the unsettling inconveniences and embarrassments that the bottomless ignorance of Trump’d policies will unleash on our species. But if the Trump administration further accelerates humanity’s damage to life on earth there is a significant chance that he will devastate not just our species but Nature itself.

There can be no greater political consequence of Trump’s ignorance. Compared to what the Third Reich accomplished, a disruption of the conditions that enable life as we know it would make World War II seem like a “minor disturbance.” After all, most of its devastation was directed at one species and it physically damaged a very small area of the world.

One of the perennially hardest questions to answer is what it is that makes humans different from other animals. It’s usually attributed to tool use or language but it turns out that several other species possess languages that share many of the fundamentals of human language, and recent work shows that numerous species make and use tools.

I believe the thing that makes our species unique is our overwhelming capacity for denial—something at which Trump and Co appear to be masters—the most serious example thereof is the refusal of Trump to recognize the undeniable importance of making the fate of non-human species our number one priority, simply because our lives are so utterly controlled by our interdependence with other species, which means that if we keep destroying the species with which we interdepend, life as we know it will be reduced below viability.

So job number one is to prevent the confirmation of Scott Pruitt or anyone else likely to make the actions of the EPA into a means of accelerating humanity’s race towards self-destruction.

I can see no point more important point on which to spend every hour, every dollar, every thought, every effort than to stop Scott Pruitt. All other threats from Trump affect only our generation. Even if he blunders us into an all-out nuclear war it would be less damaging in the long run than failing to stop the wholesale destruction of the environment. I ask each of you reading this to make environmental protection your first priority from this point forward. Environmental issues matter more than any of the other temporary inconveniences that Trump’s ignorance will be aiming at our lives.

Roger Payne

By Photo: LA(Phot) Vicki Benwell/MOD, OGL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30417972

More Good News about the Oceans, by Roger Payne

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‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops at all.
Emily Dickinson

I have lived through eight decades of bad news about the environment with good news always as rare as rain during a long drought. But after years of watching the oceans suffer blows at the hands of our species I suddenly sense that the world has arrived at a tipping point, and good news is starting to flow like water.

I wrote last time about the miracle of the Our Oceans Conference at the U.S. State Department during which the total expanse of marine protected areas was tripled and $5.3 billion was pledged to insure that such a grand plan would be fulfilled and that IUU fishing (Illegal, undocumented, unregulated fishing) could be punished rigorously.

The latest cause for thanks came last Friday, October 28th with a grand announcement from the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). It is a consortium of 25 countries that includes the United States, Russia and China. After 11 years of negotiation and patient diplomacy this consortium finally voted unanimously to create the world’s largest marine reserve in Antarctica’s Ross Sea—an area of 600,000 square miles, 72% of which now has the status of a no-take area.

When I showed joy over this fact to friends, I got a disdainful reaction form some of them; “The Ross Sea? Antarctica!? Couldn’t they have protected an area that’s a bit more friendly—a bit more accessible?

Though most people don’t find the Antarctic Ocean friendly and accessible, for many non-human species it is an unimaginably productive paradise. I am not sure there is a comparably large area anywhere on earth with so much life. In the Antarctic summer the upwelling of mineral rich waters that have been traveling for thousands of miles through the perpetual darkness of the ocean deeps, brings that mineral richness up into 24-hour daylight that triggers an explosive growth of short-lived, quick-to-reproduce plants called diatoms. These single-celled plants are some of the most beautiful life forms on earth and some of the most abundant. (To a biologist like me the word ‘abundance’ means species per unit area.) The diatom plants enable all of the food chains above them, including the incalculably abundant, tiny shrimp called krill (the main food for all larger Antarctic animals; fish of many species, penguins, seabirds, seals, dolphins, beaked whales, and baleen whales—the latter including the most massive animals that have ever lived, the blue whales).

Given such a robust food chain, saving the Ross Sea is like saving the Serengeti Plains of Africa. There are areas of greater diversity, but we’re talking abundance here. And it is cause for celebration that so much of that abundance has just been designated as a no-take zone with the first review to take place only after 35 years.

It’s the kind of good news that, frankly, I never thought I’d live long enough to see. Back when I started studying whales I used to say in a voice of gloom that because overhunting had laid blue whales so low, it would be at least fifty years before they could show any measurable recovery. I stressed “fifty years” because that seemed like an eternity to my then 30-year-old self. But time passed and I have lived through more than those five decades. And although my gloom at times reached greater depths I am thrilled by the positive news we are starting to hear about the oceans. Hope is no longer just “a thing with feathers,” it has wings and it perches not only in enigmas like the soul but on solid branches that connect to limbs and trunks with roots that grip the earth. And it is growing ever stronger, and emboldening a brighter future.

Roger Payne

Japan’s Latest Move, by Roger Payne

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The recent sudden departure by Japan for the Antarctic is a particularly grim development on several counts. In spite of the ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague ordering Japan to cease their “Scientific Whaling Program” because it does not qualify as scientific research, they unilaterally awarded themselves a quota of 330 minke whales and slipped their moorings and left.

The quota they gave themselves is a third of what they took last time they went whaling in the Antarctic. 330 is clearly an arbitrary round number that has no possible scientific justification, particularly in light of the fact that when the zero quota came into effect Japan argued vigorously for increasing the numbers of whales they killed—claiming that they needed larger sample sizes to produce valid results. That argument was their response to criticism of their “research” proposals by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) which reviewed their proposals every year (and rejected their proposals every year). In doing so, one of the things that the committee discussed was that there was already so much data of the kind Japan proposed to take that regardless of what those data showed the sample size would be so small it couldn’t make a valid difference to the conclusions one could already draw from the much larger existing dataset that dated back to the commercial whaling era.

In every year the Scientific Committee recommended to the Commission that it ask Japan not to issue a permit to its whalers and in every year the Commission complied with that recommendation by formally asking Japan not to issue a permit to its whalers. However, every year Japan went ahead and issued a permit to its whalers anyway.

In spite of this grim history and the fact that the recent International Court of Justice ruling saying that Japan’s “scientific research” did not meet the standards of scientific research, Japan has now added to its shame by once again awarding itself a permit in order to re-institute its non-scientific, “scientific whaling.” And having done so slipping its moorings without fanfare, and vanishing over the horizon in the direction of the Antarctic.

The strongest evidence that there is no improved science in the offing but only further subterfuge comes from the fact that by asking for a third as many whales this season as she took in her last hunting season, Japan’s tacit argument is that even smaller sample sizes are important—an argument that runs counter to her earlier claims.

I would like to know whether there is any limit to the willingness of Japan’s whalers to ignore the norms of science? I have always assumed that honesty must have a lower limit below which you cannot go—a point where there is no further truth available that can be removed—an absolute zero of honesty. Have the whalers figured out a way to go below that point? If so is there any limit to their tolerance for shame. Is it perhaps infinite?

– Roger Payne

Dr. Roger Payne, Founder and President of Ocean Alliance, has been the leading proponent of non-invasive whale research for over 45 years.

Producer of Documentary Film “Jane & Payne” Visits Gloucester

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Argentine filmmaker Dylan Williams recently visited the Paint Factory to share a private screening of his film “Jane & Payne” with our staff.  Back in October 2013, Dylan and fellow filmmaker Boy Olmi arranged an historic meeting between our founder Roger Payne and the noted primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall.  The two scientists have admired each other’s work for decades, but had never met in person before.  Both were approaching their 80th birthdays.

The meeting took place at the Whale Camp in Patagonia, Argentina that Roger had established in the 1970s.  The cameras were rolling to capture their meeting and their subsequent conversations, both alone at the camp and in front of an audience in Buenos Aires.  

Up until this week, Ocean Alliance staff had only seen the trailer, which you can watch here.  A free public screening of the complete film will be held at Woods Hole Historical Museum on October 13th.

“Jayne & Payne” is a poignant film that chronicles not only the noted scientists’ historic meeting, their mutual admiration, and their decades of accomplishments, but also their shared passion for using science and advocacy to preserve and improve life on our planet.  It provokes viewers to think about how they can contribute to helping the planet themselves.

Jane-and-Payne-2Coincidentally, our CEO Iain Kerr had just returned from the same Whale Camp in Patagonia, after conducting the first (and very successful) SnotBot field expedition.  Iain shared some of his dramatic footage from the expedition with Dylan.

In the top photo, Dylan presents Iain with a signed book of photographs that he and another photographer shot in the Argentine National Parks.  Dylan was accompanied by his nephew Christofer Schillachi, who is a Fishery Biologist for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries in New Bedford.   Our staff had a fascinating conversation with Christofer about his work with clams.

Roger Payne Receives Sierra Club’s 2015 EarthCare Award

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Dr. Roger Payne has received the Sierra Club’s 2015 International EarthCare Award for his unique contribution to international environmental protection and conservation. The award was presented in San Francisco on September 12.  The Sierra Club noted Dr. Payne’s many accomplishments over the past 50 years, as well as his ongoing research and advocacy, in its news release on the award:

Payne is perhaps best known for his discovery (with Scott McVay) that humpback whales sing songs. One of his National Geographic magazine articles contained a record of whale sounds for which 10.5 million copies were printed — still the largest single print order in the history of the recording industry.

Payne has led more than 100 expeditions to all oceans and studied every species of large whale in the wild. He pioneered many of the benign research techniques now used throughout the world to study free-swimming whales, and has trained many of the current leaders in whale research, both in America and abroad.

In 1971, Payne founded Ocean Alliance, which strives to increase public awareness of the importance of whale and ocean health through research and public education. A major project of Ocean Alliance was the Voyage of the Odyssey, a five-year program designed to gather the first-ever baseline data on levels of synthetic contaminants throughout the world’s oceans, ending in 2005. The crew of the Odyssey collected more than 900 tissue samples from sperm whales in all of the world’s oceans and visited 20 countries to speak with thousands of students, teachers, government officials and members of the general public.

Still fully active in this, his 80th year, Payne has recently written a Declaration of Interdependence, modeled on the 1776 Declaration of Independence which he is asking people to sign. He hopes it will encourage people everywhere to demand that their government recognizes the critical importance of granting rights and values to non-human species.

“We are extremely pleased to honor Dr. Payne for his dedication to whale and ocean conservation. I can recall listening to his recordings of whale songs many years ago, and I know that the songs and his work have inspired many others to recognize the importance of marine mammals and oceans to our efforts to care for the Earth and its wild places,” said Richard Cellarius, Sierra Club International Vice President.

Payne’s many previous honors include a Knighthood in the Netherlands, a MacArthur Fellowship, an Emmy for Best Interview: One on One with Charlie Rose, and a Global 500 Award from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). His films have received seven major awards and two Emmy nominations.

In the photo above, Sierra Club International VP Richard Cellarius presents Roger Payne with the EarthCare Award, with Executive Director Michael Brune looking on.

Roger Payne Needs Your Help to Write A Declaration of Interdependence

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Dear all,

My January wish for this, the month of the year in which I turn 80, is that you will help write a Declaration of Interdependence that the world can subscribe to. There have been dozens of previous such declarations but none that I feel focus strongly enough on the crucial importance of non-human species, or on such not-so-obvious things as the fact that the health of terrestrial life depends on the health of ocean life (and vice versa). Read More

EPA Proposal on Dispersant Use Validates Our Five Years in the Gulf of Mexico

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Sometimes it is hard to measure the direct effects of our work.  As we collect data on marine mammals and our oceans we have two principle goals: the first is to change people’s attitudes as to the importance of our oceans and the second is to collect data that can help policy makers make wise decisions as they relate to sustainable utilization of ocean resources. Read More

Roger Payne is Dedicating His 80th Year to Changing the Fate of Our Oceans

By | FEB15, Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

50 years ago when I first became concerned about their fate, whales were being hastened towards extinction by whaling. There was no Save-the-Whales movement; in fact, whales seldom crossed anyone’s mind.

 When Scott McVay and I discovered the powerfully lovely songs of humpback whales I saw them as a way to capture the world’s interest in the plight of whales, and I put all of my efforts into stopping the criminal act that turned whales into cat food and cosmetics.

As time passed the movement succeeded in greatly reducing whaling. But a new threat to whales soon emerged that was potentially worse than whaling: ocean pollution. It was caused by the compounds we synthesize to enjoy “better living” through chemistry.

I later realized that it was not pollution alone but many other interconnecting, interacting, positive feedback loops that threatened whales plus many other ocean species—for example: the buildup of CO2 creates ocean acidification which destroys plankton.

In short, my life has carried me from the specific to the general, and what started as an effort to stop a single fatal force from destroying a species has become an effort to stop dozens of forces from destroying life in all its forms, both in the ocean and on the land.

Thanks to global warming and ocean acidification there has never been a more urgent need for action—never a greater need to put all of our time, effort and treasure into changing the way that we and our fellow humans conduct our lives. Life on Earth and civilization as we know it hang in the balance.

In spite of how scary this situation is it also has a hugely positive side: for it offers our generation the most singular opportunity for greatness ever offered to any generation in history. If we seize that opportunity and act we will be admired and loved above all future generations.

Please join me in pledging to dedicate all of our efforts in the next decade to working to change the fate of the oceans.

Each month in this my 80th year I will announce another of my goals and dreams, and describe why I think it is important to whales, to the ocean, and to all life. I will also describe ways in which you can help achieve that dream.

My dream for January comes from what I consider to be the most consequential scientific discovery of the past 100 years—the slow realization that all species are interdependent. This means that the future of each species depends on the future of a great many other species. From this simple natural law we see that it is not possible to save just a single species, unless we also protect the lives of the hundreds of species on which that species’ life depends.

From this it follows that the welfare of some non-human species is as important to the survival of humans as it is to the survival of the non-human species. If we fail to recognize that fact we will have no future—at least none that you or I would care to experience.

My January wish, therefore, is to create a Declaration of Interdependence for nations to ratify. There have been several such declarations previously but none that focused strongly enough on the health of the ocean and on non-human species. I will post a draft of such a declaration on my birthday so you can suggest changes before we send it out in its final form. Ever since 1776 we in America have valued independence; what we must now learn to value even more is our interdependence with the rest of life. It is our only way to reach the future.

– Dr. Roger Payne, President and Founder of Ocean Alliance

Roger Payne Makes a Splash on NPR

By | FEB15, Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

Our phone lines lit up over the holiday break as listeners of NPR’s “All Things Considered” reported to us that “Roger Payne was on the radio right now!” The piece was called “How Pop Music Helped Save the Whales” and it was originally produced by Michael May and Studio 360, but it was rebroadcast on “All Things Considered” just in time for the evening commute. In the piece Roger talks about how his discovery with Scott McVay that humpback whales sing songs became a part of the Save the Whale movement when the world was looking for meaning and inspiration, and Judy Collins talks about the first time she met Roger, when he handed her a tape containing his new discovery.

To our surprise the piece was picked up and shared by conservation groups and whale lovers all over social media and once again people were talking about whale songs. We hope they keep talking.

Roger Payne Asks You to Buy Less Stuff

By | Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

Dear Friends,

My organization, Ocean Alliance, has for years, distanced itself from the use of mass mailings, or as we call it…junk mail. As effective as it seems to be, it is no good for the environment to be mailing tons of paperwork, most of which gets thrown away. However, through this much more environmentally friendly message, I hope to reach you with an important message.

As we look to the future this holiday season, we might as well revisit that well-worn phrase:  Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. I think comedian George Carlin was correct, with his ironic statement – “Life is all about trying to find a place to keep all of our stuff – while we go out and get more stuff!” Unfortunately, the holiday season, once about family gatherings, having fun with friends and cherishing your loved ones, has begun to revolve around material “Stuff.”

According to a report by Harris Interactive, of the US adults who receive holiday gifts, 83% (more than 4 in 5) do not want the gifts. After they are opened, these presents and the packaging they come in simply become more “Stuff,” most of which is thrown away. So I encourage you this holiday season to think about all of the “Stuff” you are purchasing, including the packaging it comes in.

Basic Whale AdoptionInstead of buying “Stuff,” why not instead Go Green & Buy Blue? A whale adoption from Ocean Alliance fits that bill perfectly. By purchasing a whale adoption for a loved one, you can inspire and educate, while supporting Ocean Alliance’s ongoing whale and ocean pollution research devoted to protecting whales and their ocean world (…and you keep all of the packaging materials out of the oceans.)

One of the strongest tools for conserving the environment is the collective purchasing power of concerned consumers like you – if we stop buying single-use or overly packaged products, companies will stop wasting those resources.

So, please, flex your buying muscles this holiday season. Go Green & Buy Blue!

You can adopt a humpback whale here.

With very best wishes for the season,

Roger Payne

Robotics For Kids and Whales

By | FEB15, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

One of the initiatives that Ocean Alliance has been pushing hard on over the last year is the development of a robotics program. When our organization was founded in the 1970s most people believed you had to kill whales to learn about them. Our founder, Dr. Roger Payne, was a pioneer in developing benign research tools–techniques that can be used to collect data without killing the animals. Read More

Annenberg Foundation Names Roger Payne & Iain Kerr As Visionary Leaders

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

To celebrate their 25th year of philanthropy, the Annenberg Foundation has named twenty-five of their grantees as “Visionary Leaders” in their fields. The individuals recognized range from conservationists of the wild world, such as Jane Goodall, to activists from the inner city, like Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone, and rural China such as Wu Qing, Founder of the Beijing Cultural Development Center for Rural Women. Included in the list are Ocean Alliance President Roger Payne and CEO Iain Kerr. Read More

Watch the Trailer for “Jane and Payne”

By | Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

Last fall Ocean Alliance President and founder Roger Payne traveled to the whale camp in Argentina that he founded in 1970 for the 43rd season of our Southern Right Whale Program with our partners Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas. He had made the journey this time to welcome a very special guest. Argentine filmmakers Boy Olmi and Dylan Williams had arranged a meeting at Whale Camp between two environmental icons, Jane Goodall and Roger Payne, in order to capture their conversations about their work to conserve whales and chimps, and to protect the environment as a whole from modern threats. The two shared meals, walks, and time with the whales, before returning to Buenos Aires to conduct a live webcast in which they discussed their hopes and fears about the task ahead. Read More

An Open Letter to Japan from Dr. Roger Payne

By | nov14, Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

A Sympathetic Voice: An Open Letter to Japan

When Christchurch, New Zealand was largely destroyed by a series of major earthquakes, the epicenters of those quakes lay along a fault line that runs very close to my house. Although we were exposed to the same violence that Christchurch was, and felt over 500 strong quakes, our house survived. That experience gave me the greatest empathy and concern for your country when on March 11, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake triggered the tsunami that overwhelmed the nuclear reactors at Fukushima. Read More

Roger Payne Attends People’s Climate March

By | Ocean Alliance News, oct14, Roger Payne | No Comments

Woodstock was a watershed moment; it identified who made the music that changed the world. Those at the People’s Climate March will play the tunes that change the world.

Lisa and I came to New York for three events: the projection of images on the United Nations buildings; the 310,000 person People’s Climate March; and a Multifaith Service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Projecting Change at United NationsAll three were inspirational—the images on the UN buildings were breathtaking, though the police shut down projection of images that moved by OPS  (Ocean Protection Society) founder Louie Psihoyos because cars on FDR drive were slowing down to look at them causing a traffic tie-up.

The March itself was moving beyond description—moving in a way I have not ever felt more deeply, and the Multifaith service was the grandest surprise. We sat in the Nave of the Cathedral beneath two massive sculptures of the Phoenix created out of discarded wastes, wrapped in tiny lights and looking like the Milky Way. The ceremony was opened by Chief Arvol Looking Horse (19th generation keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle) and one of the leaders of the march. Among his remarks was this comment summing up the days’ event:

Interfaith Ceremony at Climate MarchToday.

Many Generations.

One Prayer.

We heard from Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Al Gore, writer Terry Tempest Williams, Vandana Shiva (Nobel Prize winning founder of seed banks in India), plus 15 other speakers, all of whom, as they placed a stone on an altar in the center of the transcept, made a vow as to what they will do from now on for the earth (as did the entire congregation as the vast nave resonated with music by Paul Winter and others).

The most inspiring speaker for me was a Greenlander: Eskimo-Kalaallit Elder, Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Founder of IceWisdom. He said that he was born and had lived his whole 77 years by the Big Ice, and that when he was a child it was 5 kilometers thick and is dwindling FAST. He ended with an invocation to his ancestors which was riveting—his voice has clearly been shaped by a life spent in the embrace of Nature, wrapped in it, worshipping it, loving it, dreading it, revering it, thanking it. His message was: It is too late. We have failed in our response—and unless we melt the ice in the heart of Man things will not change.

As I write this, the action called Flood Wall Street is beginning—a dramatic acting-out of the harsh reality that when you put all power into the hands of the hyper-rich you close the doors to the courtroom, and open the doors to the street.

Aboriginal Subsistence Hunting

By | Ocean Alliance News, oct14, Roger Payne | No Comments

A Voice From the Sea

Roger Payne

Sept 11, 2014

An aboriginal subsistence quota for whaling is only supportable as a category if it is reserved for people who truly do subsist by hunting whales. The trouble is that it is largely used by corrupt claimants in notoriously crooked ways. Most outrageous is the aboriginal subsistence quota that the Russians have gotten in Kamchatka for their “aboriginal subsistence hunt” of gray whales (and that Paul Watson so memorably exposed when he invaded the Soviet Union and filmed frozen whale meat being used to feed mink and sable that were living in captive breeding cages on a soviet fur farm). The catcher boat used by the Soviets to kill those gray whales was a modern vessel and no true aboriginals feasted on the spoils of that hunt. Read More

A Meeting of the Ocean Minds in NYC

By | Ocean Alliance News, oct14 | No Comments

Ocean conservation leaders met up in New York City this week to collaborate on solutions for the problems facing our oceans. Ocean Alliance President Roger Payne and CEO Iain Kerr were invited by Parley for the Oceans to join scientists, activists and artists, including music producer Pharrell Williams, legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle, NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, and Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, to talk about our work studying the effects of pollutants on whales. Read More

Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 Campaign Update

By | aug14, Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

It’s been an extremely productive summer in the Gulf of Mexico with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society joining us on the RV Odyssey to study the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr describes what we’ve seen and learned in the Gulf this summer through multiple research techniques and tools, with new footage of the Operation Toxic Gulf crew at work:

New Video: The Science of Operation Toxic Gulf

By | aug14, Gulf of Mexico, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

In this new video from Operation Toxic Gulf 2014, Scientific Manager Andy Rogan explains the research goals of the campaign on the RV Odyssey in our fifth year following up on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, our second partnered with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Roger Payne joins the crew to help with the biopsy process:

A listing of scientific papers by the Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology from our Gulf expeditions so far can be seen here.

Are you Listening, Rex Tillerson?

By | Gulf of Mexico, july14, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf, Roger Payne | No Comments

A Message from Roger Payne on the RV Odyssey at the Deepwater Horizon Site:

July 14, 2014

Marc Rosenberg on the RV OdysseyThis evening we had a celebration over the fact that we got our 50th biopsy today. The goal from the start has been to get a minimum of 50 biopsies and with two more trips to go we anticipate that we’ll be well over that mark. We celebrated with a key lime pie made by Marc Rosenberg, our cook. It was all delicious: the pie, the sunset, the sense of accomplishment, the breeze, the billowy evening clouds. The celebration took place as we headed for our annual visit to the site of the Deepwater Horizon—the drilling platform where 11 people died during the 2010 BP oil blowout. Read More

Offshore Chaos in the Gulf (Part 2)

By | Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf, Roger Payne | No Comments

Part two of Roger Payne’s blog from Operation Toxic Gulf 2014:

July 12, 2014

We are here to find out how those whales are reacting to the oil that got released during the oil blowout from Deepwater Horizon, and the dispersants that were sprayed on the oil to sink it out of sight (and out of mind) but that seem to be worse poisons than the oil itself. This is the fifth year of our research, and what we are already finding out is disturbing. Read More

Offshore Chaos in the Gulf by Roger Payne

By | Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf, Roger Payne | No Comments

Ocean Alliance President Dr. Roger Payne is currently on the RV Odyssey in the Gulf of Mexico for Operation Toxic Gulf, our joint campaign with Sea Shepherd USA, to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the whales of the Gulf. Here he gives an account of the man-made world in which the Gulf wildlife must coexist:

Friday July 11, 2014

Roger Payne writing on the RV OdysseyI am writing this from 80 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico where you might safely imagine that so far from land there ought to be just us and the sperm whales in the perfectly mirror calm seas that have surrounded our boat Odyssey (Ocean Alliance’s research vessel) all day. However, what surrounds us way out here, so far from land, feels more like another major waterfront with traffic coming and going as it services a line of oil rigs that stretches like beads on a chain to the horizon.

There is only one rig in sight with a drilling tower on it so most of them must already be attached to successful wells that are producing oil and gas. Some of the rigs are flaring off clouds of burning gas… just throwing it away. If you or I bought enough gas to create a display like that in our back yards we’d be broke in a few hours. But what the hell, it’s the oil world here, where people are big, and oil is plentiful, and money and crude are flowing, so who gives a damn about that, or the future, or the planet, or whether we’re acidifying the seas, or little niceties like quality of life, or whether the rest of earth’s creatures can survive our ever-so-natural rapacity?

The rigs are massive, multi-story platforms mounted on top of up to four giant, vertical cylinders, tens of feet in diameter that provide the flotation to keep the multi-storied decks high above the biggest storm waves. At least that’s the idea; but who knows whether they will prove to be high enough to survive the waves of future global warming storms?

Oil rig in Gulf of MexicoThese stadium-sized structures are covered with lights of several colors, most are white but many are red and green. From a distance they look like rockets on launch pads awaiting a countdown, or like giant Christmas trees. You might assume that these ship-sized floating structures must be anchored to the bottom, and although many are, I suspect that in areas where the bottom is more than a mile down that some aren’t. In such deep water a technique called dynamic anchoring is sometimes used—I suppose that GPS signals are used now but years ago dynamic anchoring involved placing pingers around a rig that gave off loud, precisely timed pings. By measuring the elapsed time between the arrival at a microphone on the rig of the pings from several pingers a computer calculated how far the rig had drifted from directly above the well head and turned on motors to drive propellers that could swim the rig back to where it belonged. Dynamically anchored rigs dance around on a tiny imaginary dance floor that’s located a mile or more above the sea floor.

And far beneath us in this silver sea, the sperm whales move quietly, as they fossick about between the oil platforms that are the destinations for the myriad boats that attend them, as well as the sports fishing boats that would never come out this far unless the oil rig flotilla was present—but which do come out now because even though its a long trip, once you’ve covered the miles I guess it seems a lot like home, even though it’s way way out of sight of land. But the fishing’s better because there are fish that congregate beneath the rigs.

Sperm whale blow with oil rigTomorrow I will have more to say about why we’re here.

Roger Payne and Iain Kerr Speak at Sea Shepherd Summit

By | july14, Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne, Sea Shepherd | No Comments

Guest Post by Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr:

What a remarkable weekend in Vermont at the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society International Summit. Sea Shepherd staff, volunteers, consultants and friends from around the world gathered to review past, current and future projects.

Roger Payne Speaking at Sea Shepherd SummitDr. Roger Payne and I were invited to attend the conference to speak about the work we’re doing with Sea Shepherd on Operation Toxic Gulf. We had the privilege to meet and speak with a huge variety of people, from Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson to the newest volunteers. We were really impressed by the dedication and energy we encountered across the board. It was exciting to see how interested everyone was in the science that we are doing and the potential for future collaborations.

Highlights for me were a compilation video that documented much of Paul’s life, and meeting program managers such as Gary Stokes from Hong Kong who has helped to expose the shark finning trade, Jeff Hansen of Sea Shepherd Australia, and Captain Peter Hammarstedt of the Bob Barker (as seen in “Whale Wars”).  It was nice to see Susan Hartland of Sea Shepherd USA and Alex Cornelissen of Sea Shepherd Global. Our good friend Cyrill Gutsch of Parley for the Oceans and Tim Coombs from Bionic Yarn also gave a powerful presentation about the “cradle to cradle” philosophy.

I like it when we can identify a problem, look for solutions, and help educate the public to bring about change and I found this philosophy very prevalent at the conference.

Sea Shepherd Summit from drone(Pictured at top: Alex Cornelissen, Peter Hammarstedt, Roger Payne, Susan Hartland, Paul Watson, Iain Kerr, Jeff Hansen; Photo by Eliza Muirhead. Group photo from drone by Iain Kerr)

The Whale Guitar: Six-String Activism

By | Education, Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

Whales are a species of sound. They live in a world of sound, communicate through sound, and captured the world’s attention when Roger Payne and Scott McVay discovered that they sing songs. Roger, in addition to being a biologist, is also a musician, and it became his life’s work to share their songs and inspire a passion to protect them.

Whale Guitar scrimshawIt’s no surprise then that artists and musicians, poets and composers are drawn to whales. This is how the Whale Guitar came to be. Read More

Biopsies! Why?

By | Education, Gulf of Mexico, Operation Toxic Gulf, Roger Payne | No Comments

A Special Guest Post by Ocean Alliance President and Founder Dr. Roger Payne:

Between 2000 and 2005 Ocean Alliance ran The Voyage of the Odyssey, a research expedition that circumnavigaged the globe measuring background levels in sperm whales of a series of contaminants. We came back with over 900 samples from sperm whales which we had analyzed for a suite of contaminants. The worst offending molecules turned out to be toxic metals—not just mercury and lead but Chromium, Aluminum, Silver and several other highly toxic metals. Read More

Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 Launches Today

By | Gulf of Mexico, jun14, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

A special announcement from Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr:

The Research Vessel Odyssey heads back into the Gulf of Mexico for a fifth season today.

I’ve spent the last two weeks with a remarkable international crew aboard the Odyssey prepping for our fifth summer of data and sample collection in the Gulf of Mexico—our joint campaign with Sea Shepherd Conservation SocietyOperation Toxic Gulf .  The crew represent six countries: Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Holland, Spain and the USA. Read More

Roger Payne is Guest Moderator at FiRe Technology Conference

By | Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne, Technology | No Comments

This past week Ocean Alliance President and founder Roger Payne was in Laguna Beach, California as a guest moderator at the 13th Annual Future in Review (FiRe) Conference. Called “The Best Technology Conference in the World” by The Economist, FiRe brings together leaders from technology, energy, the environment, education and the economy to forge new partnerships and new ideas for a better future. Speakers included executives from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Oracle, journalists, scientists and environmentalists. Read More

A Happy Discovery from our Southern Right Whale Program

By | jun14, Ocean Alliance News, Southern Right Whale Program | No Comments

If you’ve ever been on a whale watch, you’ve no doubt seen a naturalist busy snapping photos of the whales encountered. Far from taking pretty pictures, in most cases the naturalist is taking shots to identify and record the sighting of individual whales. With whales who are recurring visitors, they can track their life histories–their health, births, and wounds, and by comparing photographs with those of other organizations they can track migration patterns. Read More

First-Ever Paper on the Toxicity of Chemical Dispersants in Whales Comes from Our Gulf Expeditions

By | Gulf of Mexico, jun14, Ocean Alliance News, Pollution, Whales | No Comments

In 2010 the RV Odyssey headed to the Gulf of Mexico with a team from Ocean Alliance and our partners at the Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology at the University of Southern Maine. The Deepwater Horizon well had been capped, but the Gulf wildlife and people were now challenged with coping with the oil and dispersants that remained. Our specific concern was the potential effects of this disaster on the population of sperm whales living in the Gulf in the deep water where the disaster occurred, and having sampled hundreds of sperm whales around the world during the Voyage of the Odyssey 2000-2005 we were well-equipped and trained to track and sample sperm whales in the Gulf. Our global data set gave us a unique opportunity to put what we found in the Gulf into a global context. We’ve been back every year since the disaster and this week those expeditions have produced a new study. Read More

Roger Payne to Speak in Park City this Friday

By | Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments


Roger Payne, Ph.D.If you live in the Park City, Utah area you have the opportunity this Friday to speak with Ocean Alliance founder and president Dr. Roger Payne in person and ask him anything you like about his over forty years of working with whales.

On April 18th at 7:30 Roger will be speaking at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts’ Black Box Theatre about his work with whales and ocean pollution–sharing stories, discoveries and his hope for the future. The talk, “Oceans, Whales and People” will be followed by a question and answer period with the audience. You can purchase tickets to this special event here.

Historic Whale Film Will Be Seen Again

By | apr14, Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

Humpbacks--The Gentle GiantsRecently we told you about about the discovery in England of Roger Payne’s first film about whales, featuring Sylvia Earle and released in 1978, “World of Survival: Humpbacks—The Gentle Giants.” Tomorrow Iain Kerr is meeting with Judi and Terry Vose, longtime friends and supporters of Ocean Alliance. Iain will be handing over the film and they will be driving it to Play it Again Film and Video Transfer in Newton, MA where it will be transferred to dvd at a discount, with the remaining costs covered by the Voses. Read More

1978 Whale Film Featuring Roger Payne and Sylvia Earle Found in England

By | mar14, Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne | No Comments

Recently Iain Kerr was contacted by a senior radio producer at the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol England named Sarah Blunt. She had been contacted by a gentleman named Harry Espley who lives an hour or so south of Liverpool in a town called Tattenhall.

Humpbacks--The Gentle GiantsHarry had come by an original copy of a 16mm film made by Anglia TV in 1978.  The film, “World of Survival: Humpbacks–the Gentle Giants” was one of the first whale films ever made. It featured Ocean Alliance President Roger Payne, Katie Payne and Sylvia Earle, and was shot by Al Giddings and Chuck Nicklin.  When Al (who later shot the IMAX film “Whales” with Roger) got into the water with Sylvia and Chuck to shoot the underwater segments of the film they had no idea if they would become a whale snack.

Roger remembers, “This was my first time working with the unequaled cameraman Al Giddings and Her Deepness Sylvia Earle.  It was a great expedition into the unknown for all. This was an early example of photographers working with scientists.  Al Giddings saw details of humpback whale behavior that no one had seen before.”

Harry explained he used to play the film at local events to inspire and engage people with the world of whales. When he had reached the point where the film had been sitting for a few years he contacted Sarah, who in turn contacted Iain with news of the find.  Iain asked John Atkinson, our problem solver, to work with Harry to ship the film to the Gloucester.

World of Survival: Humpbacks--The Gentle GiantsWe are very excited to have this film and deeply grateful to Harry for saving this small piece of whale history (and to Sarah for introducing Harry to us). The goal now is to get the film digitized so that it can be played again and seen by a larger audience of whale lovers.

We are looking for someone who can help us transfer the 16 mm film to a digital form either through a grant or contribution. If you or someone you know works for a company with these capabilities please contact Iain Kerr at kerr@whale.org. We look forward to sharing this film with you!


Thank You Pete Seeger

By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

Pete Seeger At 89 AlbumToday we say good-bye to musical and environmental icon Pete Seeger. Roger Payne spent time with Seeger sailing on his boat the Clearwater on the Hudson River. The sloop was symbolic of the fight and the right for clean water in the Hudson and around the world. In 1970, after hearing Roger’s recording Songs of the Humpback Whale, Seeger wrote “Song of the World’s Last Whale,” but the song wasn’t recorded until 2007 when he released the album At 89 which went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. The lyrics are shockingly current:

I heard the song
Of the world’s last whale
As I rocked in the moonlight
And reefed the sail

It’ll happen to you
Also without fail
If it happens to me
Sang the world’s last whale

It was down off Bermuda
Early last spring
Near an underwater mountain
Where the humpbacks sing

I lowered the microphone
About a quarter mile down
Switched on the recorder
Let the tape spin around

I didn’t just hear grunting
I didn’t just hear squeaks
I didn’t just hear bellows
I didn’t just hear shrieks

It was the musical singing
And the passionate wail
That came from the heart
Of the world’s last whale

Down in the Antarctic
There, the harpoons wait
But it’s up on the land
You decide my fate

In London town
They’ll be telling the tale
If it’s life or death
For the world’s last whale

So here’s a little test
To see how you feel
Here’s a little test
For this age of the automobile

If we can save
Our singers up in the sea
Perhaps there’s a chance
To save you and me

I heard the song
Of the world’s last whale
As I rocked in the moonlight
And reefed the sail

It’ll happen to you
Also without fail
If it happens to me
Sang the world’s last whale

“My job,” Seeger said, “is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.” Peter Seeger’s songs were not for him, they were for the world to sing, especially the children.

Ocean Alliance and the Wise Laboratory at Gulf Oil Spill Conference in Mobile

By | Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf | No Comments

Screen Shot 2014-01-25 at 10.14.53 AM
Today Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr is traveling to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Conference in Mobile, Alabama with Dr. John Wise and team from the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine. They will be presenting findings from our work in the Gulf beginning in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, specifically on the effects of chemical dispersants on the sperm whales of the Gulf. Read More


By | Commercial whaling, Ocean Alliance News, Pollution, Sea Shepherd Australia | No Comments

Eva HidalgoEva Hidalgo, Bosun’s Mate on the Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin, has dedicated her life to the conservation of whales and their environment. For this season’s  campaign in the Southern Ocean, Operation Relentless, not only is the Sea Shepherd fleet trying to thwart Japanese whalers, but they’re collecting invaluable data from an environment that is not easy to work in or even access. Read More


By | Commercial whaling, Ocean Alliance News, Sea Shepherd Australia | No Comments

As I write this, commercial whaling (under the false premise of scientific whaling) is going on in Antarctic waters.  Roger Payne calls this, “as egregious a misuse of science—the field I love—as I have ever seen.” This year three RV Odyssey Operation Toxic Gulf crewmembers (our 2013 Gulf of Mexico campaign) are there to try and stop it. Hillary Watson, Eliza Muirhead and Erwin Vermeulen are on board the Sea Shepherd fleet as it confronts Japanese whalers. When these three came to the Odyssey to work last summer they were already veterans of Sea Shepherd’s campaigns around the world. Now they’ve left the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico for the harsh conditions of the Southern Ocean.

Front from left - Eliza Muirhead, Lauren Paap, Second row from left - Andy Rogan, Bob Wallace, Iain Kerr, Erwin Vermeulen, Hillary Watson, Camron Adibi

Front from left – Eliza Muirhead, Lauren Paap, Second row from left – Andy Rogan, Bob Wallace, Iain Kerr, Erwin Vermeulen, Hillary Watson, Camron Adibi

The news broke this week that the Sea Shepherd fleet – the Bob Barker, Steve Irwin and Sam Simon had found the Japanese whaling fleet, but not before they had harvested four minke whales, three of which were on the deck of the factory ship, and one that had evidently already been processed. As we are collaborating with the Sea Shepherd fleet collecting sightings and other data in Antarctica, Roger Payne has been in touch with Eliza Muirhead and identified the sex of the whales lying on the deck of the Japanese ship. From left to right in the photo they are male, female and the far right whale we think but cannot confirm is also female.  Males have two genital slits while females have one, in the case of Minke whales the females can grow to be a lot larger than the males, which is what suggest to us that the far right animal is female.Dead Minkes on Nisshun Maru - Photo by Sea Shepherd Australia

We will be thinking of the safety and well-being of our friends and everyone working in that hostile environment during this campaign.


By | jan14, Ocean Alliance News, Sea Shepherd Australia | No Comments

Sea Shepherd fleet - photo by Iain KerrAt this moment a fleet of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Australia vessels are heading to the Southern Ocean to prevent Japanese whalers from killing and processing whales. For 10 years Sea Shepherd vessels have run annual campaigns in Antarctic waters; in the last few years these campaigns have been documented in the Animal Planet series “Whale Wars,” but this year they have a new objective to add to their campaign. Read More

Roger Payne Attends Marine Mammal Conference in NZ

By | Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne, Whales | No Comments

2013 Marine Mammal Conference PosterFor the last forty years, every two years, marine mammal scientists and educators and other interested parties from around the world get together the Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals. There are specialized training workshops, discussion groups, a video night along with the regular oral presentations and poster presentations on everything from pollution to captivity. Read More


By | Ocean Alliance News | No Comments

2013 has been a very productive and diverse year. Our primary goal, to protect whales and their ocean environment has never been more important or imperative so we cannot thank you enough for supporting our programs.

To counter the diverse challenges facing whales and our oceans we have made significant leaps forward with both old and new programs in 2013.  Following are a few highlights: Read More


By | Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne, Southern Right Whale Program | No Comments

Roger Payne and Jane Goodall on beachTo wake up in the morning and find a lovely woman in the kitchen preparing a cup of hot coffee for breakfast.

To walk out the door and see a tall man on the porch, reading a book or writing some notes in his computer.

To cook and look out the window and see this woman and this man walking along the beach in front of the house and having a lively conversation.

These and other moments wouldn’t have been so special (in fact, so amazingly special!) for us if this woman and this man weren’t Jane Goodall and Roger Payne. But they are. And they are special (amazingly special!) people. Read More


By | Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Odyssey, Operation Toxic Gulf, Sea Shepherd, Sperm Whales, Whales | No Comments

Ocean Alliance in the GulfThe following is a summary of goals and accomplishments for the 2013 collaborative research expedition Operation Toxic Gulf carried out by Sea Shepherd Global and Ocean Alliance in the Gulf of Mexico (USA) aboard the Research Vessel Odyssey. While we continue to work closely with our scientific partner the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine, this year our campaign partner was Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Global. Read More