Ocean Alliance

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Ocean Alliance
Motto Protecting whales and their environment through research and education
Formation 1971
Founder Roger Payne
Type 501(c) organization
Headquarters Gloucester, Massachusetts
  • 32 Horton Street, Gloucester, Massachusetts, 01930
Key people
Founder and President Dr. Roger Payne, Chief Executive Officer Dr. Iain Kerr, Dr. Victoria Rowntree
Website http://whale.org

Ocean Alliance, Inc., a 501(c)3 organization, is dedicated to the conservation of whales and their marine environment through research and education. The organization is based in the iconic Tarr & Wonson Paint Manufactory in Gloucester, Massachusetts, United States.

It was founded in 1971 by biologist Roger Payne. Led by Payne and Chief Executive Officer Iain Kerr, Ocean Alliance collects a broad spectrum of data on whales and ocean life relating particularly to toxicology, behavior, bioacoustics, and genetics. From those data, the alliance works with its scientific partners to advise educators and policy makers on wise stewardship of the oceans in order to: reduce pollution, prevent the collapse of marine mammal populations, maintain human access to fish and other sea life, and benefit ocean and human health.


Ocean Alliance was founded in 1971 by whale biologist Dr. Roger Payne, with the purpose of saving the great whales from the very real extinction risk which commercial whaling posed at the time. Payne, along with colleague Scott McVay, became famous for the discovery that humpback whales sing songs,[1] a discovery which allowed him to become an influential figure in the worldwide campaign to end commercial whaling.

Since its founding under Payne, and later under the stewardship of current CEO Dr. Iain Kerr, Ocean Alliance has been an important group in the worldwide effort to research and protect great whales. They are well-respected for developing benign research techniques, and in the process proving that far more can be learnt from a live whale than from a dead one. Many of their exploits have brought them closely into the public eye, leading Payne to describe the group as "the group you don’t know you know". During the 1990s, Payne established that the way to save whales would be to show them to the world, and Ocean Alliance became involved in over forty documentaries including In the Company of Whales[2] and the IMAX film WHALES.[3] In 1979 Roger Payne proclaimed that pollution would replace the harpoon as the greatest threat to whales,[4] and in more recent years much of Ocean Alliance’s work has been directed towards combating this growing threat. From 2000-2005, under the leadership of Iain Kerr, Ocean Alliance launched the Voyage of the Odyssey,[5] which provided the first ever global data set on pollution in the oceans. This project lasted five years and spanned the entire planet. In the executive summary of the program, Roger Payne states that, "The Voyage of the Odyssey has proven irrefutably that ocean life is becoming polluted to unacceptable levels by metals and human-made contaminants".

Major accomplishments[edit]

• 1967: Ocean Alliance founder and president Dr. Roger Payne discovered, along with Scott McVay, that humpback whales sing songs. This was an important hallmark of the Save the Whales[6][7] movement.

• 1970s: Payne and Ocean Alliance demonstrated mathematically that the songs of Blue whales and Fin whales are audible across entire ocean basins. The recent corroboration of this theory[8] may explain, for the first time, why these species have no known breeding grounds.

• 1970s: Payne and Ocean Alliance are instrumental in establishing an 860 square mile whale park (Golfo San Jose), off Peninsula Valdes in southern Argentina-an important breeding ground for endangered Southern right whales. This led to a permanent research program being set up, which is now the longest continuously running study on baleen whales (the program entered its 44th year in 2013). Since 1996 the program has been run in conjunction with the Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas.[9][10]

• 1970s: Ocean Alliance scientists pioneer many of the benign research techniques now commonly used worldwide to study free-ranging whales.

• 1979, National Geographic magazine published an article by Roger Payne which includes a sound sheet of his ‘Songs of the Humpback Whale’.[11][12] This is one of the most produced records in history, and in the article Payne is referred to as "the dean of modern whale research".

• 1984-1989: Payne is selected for a 'Genius Grant' through the MacArthur Fellows Program. • 1990’s-Present: An education drive is implemented by CEO Iain Kerr to support Ocean Alliance’s programs. This included partnerships with schools in Massachusetts developing an elementary whale study curriculum ‘Looking at Whales’, the Cetacean Education Through Awareness (CETA) program in Gloucester, Massachusetts; the ‘Education Today’ program developed in partnership with the Discovery Channel, the Pacific Life WHALE Education program with various schools across the United States and the Ocean Encounters multimedia education program.

• 1990’s-Present: Ocean Alliance are involved in the production of over 40 documentaries studying whales, including ‘In the Company of Whales’[13] and the IMAX film ‘WHALES’.[14] Their research vessel Odyssey has been featured on PBS, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, BBC, Canal Plus, NHK, Network Ten Australia, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Television New Zealand and many others.[15]

• 1970’s-2000’s: Ocean Alliance is involved in setting up and protecting marine parks in Hawaii, Alaska, Sri Lanka, the Galapagos Islands, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico. In 2003, Ocean Alliance’s work leads directly to a 1.2 million square mile marine mammal sanctuary being created in the waters of Papua New Guinea.

• 1994: Massachusetts governor William D. Weld signed a proclamation establishing April 21 as Roger Payne and Ocean Alliance day in celebration of Earth Day.

• 2000-2005: Under CEO Iain Kerr, Ocean Alliance launched the 'The Voyage of the Odyssey',[16] to gather the first ever data set on pollutants throughout the world’s oceans. This was a massive undertaking, receiving media attention worldwide.

•2008: Bought the iconic Tarr & Wonson Paint Manufactory in Gloucester, Massachusetts to be the new headquarters.

•2010-2014: Ocean Alliance spends five summers in the Gulf of Mexico in an attempt to determine the long-term toxicological impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

•2015: Ocean Alliance ‘Drones for Whale Research’ initiative begins after a successful KickStarter campaign. The program, with the flagship ‘SnotBot’ program at its core, is now Ocean Alliance’s primary research activity. , [17]

Headquarters: The Gloucester Paint Factory[edit]

In 2008, Ocean Alliance purchased the Tarr & Wonson Paint Manufactory in Gloucester, Massachusetts to be its new headquarters. The Tarr & Wonson Paint Manufactory is one of the most well-known landmarks on the North Shore (Massachusetts), significant for being the place where Anti-fouling paint, used to prevent the build-up of marine growth on the bottom of boats, was perfected. Since its building it has been a landmark of Gloucester harbour, and Gloucester fishermen have long counted themselves as being home when they glimpsed the red walls of this iconic structure sitting at the gateway of Gloucester harbour.

As technology developed, the type of paint made at the Gloucester Paint Factory became obsolete, and in the 1980s the Factory was shut down. Over the decades a lack of maintenance, the toxic nature of the chemical compounds used to make the copper-based paint and the elements have all pulled the buildings into disrepair. In 2008 Ocean Alliance purchased the buildings to be their new headquarters with the intention of making the Paint Factory a proud symbol of the city of Gloucester’s pioneering spirit and of its intimate connection with the seas.

Ocean Alliance is currently developing the buildings, and among other things hope the buildings will house a state-of-the-art education center (complete with a library, a classroom and an interactive learning/media environment), a Paint Factory Museum and anti-fouling paint exhibit, offices, conference spaces, a robotics laboratory developing the research tools of tomorrow and a toxicology laboratory.

Major Research Programs[edit]

The Voyage of the Odyssey[edit]

The Voyage of the Odyssey was a 5-year program which collected the first baseline data set on contaminants in the world’s oceans.[18] It was launched from San Diego in March 2000, and ended five and a half years later in Boston, August 2005.[19][20]

In a 1979 National Geographic magazine article Ocean Alliance founder and president Dr. Roger Payne predicted that toxic pollution would replace the harpoon as the next greatest threat to whales.[21] Recognizing the stark lack of data on the subject, Roger set his organisation Ocean Alliance the task of obtaining a global baseline data set on contaminants.[22]

After years of planning and fund-raising, the program was finally ready to launch in 2000. In the executive summary of the project, Roger stated that, ‘The Voyage of the Odyssey has proven irrefutably that ocean life is becoming polluted to unacceptable levels by metals and human-made contaminants.’

The focus of the program was on Sperm whales, a cosmopolitan species found in every major ocean.[23] As long-lived apex predators, Sperm whales represent a useful bioindicator of health in the marine ecosystem in a toxicological context, owing to the effects of three key processes: bioaccumulation, biomagnification and the generation effect.[24] Sadly, these three processes also make Sperm whales, and other apex predators, at great risk from toxic pollution. As mammalian apex predators that nurse their young with milk, they are also relatively similar to us, and thus are seen as the ‘canaries in the golf mine’ regards humanities relationship with the oceans.

The program also had a robust educational and outreach component. In every country they visited, Odyssey crew members met with government leaders, students, teachers and journalists-many of whom kept promoting ocean health after the Odyssey departed for its next research location.[25] The program was also the focus of a major online diary & educational webpage through American broadcaster PBS.[26]

Aside from collecting the first baseline data set on contaminants in the world’s oceans, the program was witness to a number of other successes, innovations and firsts. These include:

• uncovering illegal shark finning operations[27]

• documenting the use of massive drift nets in the Mediterranean[28]

• helping to create a 1.2 million square-mile marine mammal sanctuary in Papua New Guinea waters[29]

• made incredibly rare sightings of a live Longman’s beaked whale[30]

• recorded sightings of blue whales in equatorial waters where they were thought never to be present[31]

• the first successful satellite tag on a sperm whale (by visiting scientist Bruce Mate)[32]

• the first electrocardiogram of a sperm whale (by visiting scientist Dr. Jorge Reynolds)[33]

• the training of over 100 scientists from Latin America in the benign research techniques developed by the Ocean Alliance;[34]

• the first successful underwater sonar tracking of sperm whales throughout their dives,[35]

• technique for placing remote sensing packages on the backs of whales and for acquiring skin samples more easily.[36]

On the program, Roger Payne commented that, ‘Saving marine animals from the insidious effects of pesticides, fire retardants, plasticizers, and poisonous metals is not a selfless act. By saving the ocean for whales, we may just be able to save countless other oceanic species and leave our children and grandchildren a healthy ocean rather than one contaminated with the by-products of our progress.’ More information on the Voyage of the Odyssey can be found on Ocean Alliance’s website.

Patagonia Right whale program[edit]

The Patagonia Right Whale program is one of the longest continually running studies on great whales:[37] as of 2014 the program entered its 44th year.[38] Ocean Alliance founder Dr. Roger Payne set up the program in 1970, on realizing that he could identify individual whales based on the patterns of cyamids (whale lice) on their heads. This opened up an enormous opportunity to gain far more information on the life-history of individual whales than had previously been possible. Roger also recognized its significance as it enabled him to learn far more from a live whale than the whaling community was learning from dead whales.[39]

The program is now ran by Dr. Victoria Rowntree, in conjunction with Dr. Mariano Sironi of the Instituto Conservación de Ballenas.[40] The unique long-term nature of this program has produced a number of significant discoveries relating to the ecology, biological life cycle,[41] ethology and conservation of these species. As time has gone on, the program has been expanded to include genetics, feeding ecology and bioacoustics. The techniques that initially Roger Payne, and later on Victoria Rowntree and Instituto Conservacion de Ballenas,[42] pioneered are now well-established among cetacean science programs worldwide.

So called because they were the ‘right’ whale to kill,[43] Southern right whales were brought to the verge of extinction during the early 20th century.[44] Their enormous blubber reserves caused the animals to float after being killed, whilst their slow-moving nature made them easy targets. Whilst significant conservation threats still remain (primarily habitat loss), many populations have shown slow signs of recovery. The long-term objective of the Patagonian Right Whale Program is to promote and facilitate this recovery.[45]

Gulf of Mexico program[edit]

In April 2010, approximately 210 million gallons of oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico marine environment following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.[46] In response, over 2 million gallons of oil dispersant was released, in unprecedented quantities and untested ways,[47] in an effort to break up and sink the oil.

In July 2010, Ocean Alliance, in partnership with the Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology, took the RV Odyssey into the area in an effort to determine the, often over-looked, long-term impacts of this environmental catastrophe.[48] After such incidents, people often look no further than the immediate impact: death tolls of particular species are logged, population declines/increases recorded, and these figures are seen as broadly representative of the environmental damage. The toxicological work being conducted by Ocean Alliance and their partners at the Wise Lab was primarily aimed at determining the chronic, long-term impact of the incident-in particular the geno-toxic impacts of oil (and compounds found in oil) and dispersants as they work their way up the trophic food chain.[49] The long-term effects are believed by many to be far more significant than the short-term effects, a belief corroborated by on-going research in the Gulf of Mexico[50][51][52] and the fact that the impacts of the Exxon Valdez spill (which occurred in 1985 in Prince William Sound, Alaska) are still being studied over 25 years after the initial accident. In terms of total discharge of oil, this spill was approximately one tenth of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Perhaps the most significant economic impact of the Exxon Valdez disaster-the collapse of the Herring fishery, only collapsed four years after the spill, and to this day is not showing signs of recovery.[53] This makes the kind of long-term focused program Ocean Alliance conducted all the more important. Preliminary analysis has shown potentially damaging levels of genotoxic metals including chromium and nickel in Sperm whales living in the area, significantly higher than the global average.[54] Furthermore, it has shown a correlation between proximity to the spill and levels of these genotoxic metals.[55]

To achieve this aim of conducting a long-term analysis, Ocean Alliance monitored the top apex predator of the region, the Sperm whales.[56] A resident, non-migratory population of Sperm whales resides in the Northern Gulf of Mexico in close proximity to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As apex predators, Sperm whales act as bio indicators of the health of the marine ecosystem in a toxicological context, demonstrating the effects of three key processes: bioaccumulation, biomagnification and the generation effect. Sadly these processes also make Sperm whales, and other apex predators, at greater risk from toxic pollution. Significantly, the data which was collected could be placed into the global data-set acquired during The Voyage of the Odyssey program.

Ocean Alliance conducted this study for 5 years, during each summer from 2010 to 2014. For the final two years, they were joined by activist group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, as part of a program labelled Operation Toxic Gulf.[57] This afforded the program much more exposure than was previously possible.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=08-P13-00007&segmentID=6
  2. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0304194/
  3. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120496/
  4. ^ http://loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=08-P13-00007&segmentID=6
  5. ^ http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/
  6. ^ http://www.npr.org/2014/12/26/373303726/recordings-that-made-waves-the-songs-that-saved-the-whales
  7. ^ Anti-whaling#Save the Whales
  8. ^ http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2005/02/secrets-whales-long-distance-songs-are-unveiled
  9. ^ es:Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas
  10. ^ http://www.icb.org.ar/
  11. ^ http://www.nationalgeographic.com/radiox/humpback/hw_archive.html
  12. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WOjJIynHgM
  13. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0304194/
  14. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120496/
  15. ^ http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/voyage/ship.html
  16. ^ http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/
  17. ^ https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/snotbot/snotbot-pushing-the-frontiers-of-whale-research-wi
  18. ^ http://mattsolano.com/oaFiles/OdysseyVoyage.html
  19. ^ http://www.rense.com/general45/whales.htm
  20. ^ http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/23020/story.htm
  21. ^ http://loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=08-P13-00007&segmentID=6
  22. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/lifewithwhales.shtml
  23. ^ http://www.whales.org.au/discover/sperm/spermg.html
  24. ^ http://loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=08-P13-00007&segmentID=6
  25. ^ http://www.rense.com/general45/whales.htm
  26. ^ http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/
  27. ^ http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/odyssey/20040309_log_transcript.html
  28. ^ http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/odyssey/20041022_log_transcript.html
  29. ^ http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/odyssey/20020506_log_transcript.html
  30. ^ http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/odyssey/20030918_log_transcript.html
  31. ^ http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/voyage/ship.html
  32. ^ http://mattsolano.com/oaFiles/iainKerr.html
  33. ^ http://mattsolano.com/oaFiles/theVessel.html
  34. ^ http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/voyage/ship.html
  35. ^ http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/voyage/ship.html
  36. ^ http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/voyage/ship.html
  37. ^ http://marineworldheritage.unesco.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Ocean-Alliance_Report-2008-Research-Education-Conservation-Program-english.pdf
  38. ^ http://www.whale.org/report-whale-camp-patagonia/
  39. ^ http://e360.yale.edu/feature/a_defender_of_worlds_whales_sees_only_a_tenuous_recovery/2476/
  40. ^ http://www.whale.org/report-whale-camp-patagonia/
  41. ^ http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=usdeptcommercepub
  42. ^ http://www.icb.org.ar/
  43. ^ http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/right-whale/
  44. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=w0SYTS7mmU4C&pg=PA466&lpg=PA466&dq=so+called+because+they+were+the+right+whales+to+kill&source=bl&ots=LckQ0RSIRR&sig=wYT0PBJwVE1SLp6VlOqOoVtllGI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=r2xfVaePH4upyQT33YC4BQ&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=so%20called%20because%20they%20were%20the%20right%20whales%20to%20kill&f=false
  45. ^ http://marineworldheritage.unesco.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Ocean-Alliance_Report-2008-Research-Education-Conservation-Program-english.pdf
  46. ^ http://www.audubon.org/news/more-one-million-birds-died-during-deepwater-horizon-disaster
  47. ^ http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/62/5/461.short
  48. ^ http://bangordailynews.com/2010/07/16/news/maine-expedition-to-study-gulf-of-mexico-whales/
  49. ^ http://bangordailynews.com/2010/07/16/news/maine-expedition-to-study-g
  50. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/mar/31/dolphins-sick-deepwater-oil-spill
  51. ^ http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2014/04/bp_oil_spill_scientists_strugg.html
  52. ^ https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2012/04/19/11409/the-lasting-impact-of-deepwater-horizon/
  53. ^ https://www.nwf.org/What-We-Do/Protect-Habitat/Gulf-Restoration/Oil-Spill/Effects-on-Wildlife/Compare-Exxon-Valdez-and-BP-Oil-Spills.aspx
  54. ^ http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es405079b
  55. ^ http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es405079b
  56. ^ http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/sars/ao2012whsp-gmxn.pdf
  57. ^ http://www.seashepherd.org/toxic-gulf/

External links[edit]