Sea Shepherd
News from the Field
 
News from the Field

News and information written by crew members directly from Operation Toxic Gulf

 

The Encounter of a Lifetime

By Iain Kerr

Iain KerrIain Kerr
Photo: Sea Shepherd
Beyond the hard work, there are many special moments at sea: great sunsets, spectacular light shows from thunder storms, and the joy of seeing a team work so well together for a common cause.  A couple of days ago, I had one of these lifetime moments.

I was sitting out on the whale boom as we slowly approached a whale. Rather than diving under, the whale turned towards us, and I asked Captain Bob to put the Odyssey’s engine into neutral. The whale spy-hopped (lifted its head out of the water), swam over to where I was sitting, rolled over sideways and looked up at me. It felt like we were less than five feet away from each other, eye to eye (it was most likely more). The whale just hung there for a few moments as we looked at each other. I doubt that the whale was in awe, but I was. I could see the very texture of its skin, scars on its body, creases under its eye, clearly this animal was checking us out and then, alas, it slowly turned away and dove into the abyss.  

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Offshore Chaos in the Gulf – Part 2

Friday, July 12, 2014

By Roger Payne

Dr. Roger Payne on the bow of the RV OdysseyDr. Roger Payne on the bow of the RV Odyssey
Photo: Sea Shepherd
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. 

On board our boat are five crew members from our partner organization, Sea Shepherd—all of them dedicated, all of them hard and willing workers, all of them unpaid volunteers, all of them good company. We arise at dawn to the sounds of sperm whale clicks drifting through the boat, and when we see the whale surface in the distance we drive over to it and use a biopsy dart to obtain a skin/blubber sample that we can analyze later for the poisons in it from the oil spill and the dispersants. Today we had perfect calm weather and got eight biopsies. We will keep up our collection until we have at least 50 biopsies and will then return to analyze them for oil and dispersants. And we will publish those results so the world can find out what the true state of the Gulf is in the aftermath of the oil spill. Meanwhile, we urge you to follow our progress (I also urge you to judge for yourself whether it is safe to eat the seafood from these waters—something about which I’ll have more to say in the future.)

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Offshore Chaos in the Gulf – Part 1

Friday, July 12, 2014

By Roger Payne

Dr. Roger PayneDr. Roger Payne
Photo: Sea Shepherd
I 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 stretch 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 backyard, 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? 

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A Rare Sighting of the Endangered Bryde’s whale

By Andy Rogan and Iain Kerr

The Bryde’s whale (pronounced broodas) is a baleen whale of approximately 40-45 feet in lengthThe Bryde’s whale (pronounced broodas) is a baleen whale of approximately 40-45 feet in length
Photo: Sea Shepherd / Eliza Muirhead
I had been up the mast for around an hour-and-a-half before something caught my eye in the periphery of my vision. I turned quickly, but whatever I saw had quickly disappeared beneath the waves. I continued looking in the general direction, quite far off of our port bow, and sure enough, a couple minutes later a large dark shape cut through the water heading straight at us! I couldn't immediately identify the species, but what I did know was that I had never seen it before, and that it was special.  

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New 1,000-Pound Tar Mat Washes Up in Pensacola

Commentary by Dan Haefner, First Mate, RV Odyssey

Dan HaefnerDan Haefner
Photo: Sea Shepherd / Eliza Muirhead
On the 20th of June, Pensacola was the recipient of yet another “present” from the oil-filled Gulf of Mexico - a 1000-pound tar mat washed up in Ft. Pickens Park. Tar balls wash up almost every day along the coast between Pensacola Beach and Ft. Pickens, but sometimes a large mat is uncovered by waves. 

I started the day as I like to spend most of my days in port, walking the beaches of Ft. Pickens. As a local Pensacolian, I feel a special connection to the beaches there. It has been a place of fond memories: I camped there as a Boy Scout when I was young; I learned to surf at one of the parking lot beaches when I was 15; I created a national science fair project there in high school that won many awards. I still go there as one of my favorite recreational outings. It was on one of these outings that I spotted a few Coast Guard workers digging up a tar mat and I immediately called my friends aboard the RV Odyssey into action. I wanted to show my crewmates how much tar actually comes up from one of these. I Usually, they are scooped up and forgotten all too quickly. Most people have been brainwashed into believing that the Gulf is clean, our beaches are clean and the seafood is safe to eat. As a local, it was important for me to share the truth.

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The Highs and Lows of Operation Toxic Gulf

By Andy Rogan

Andy RoganAndy Rogan
Photo: Sea Shepherd / Eliza Muirhead
The second leg of our Operation Toxic Gulf campaign was quite extraordinary. When I decided to write a blog about the leg, it quickly became apparent that I could not justify cramming it all into one entry, and so it was split into two. This blog documents the first half of the leg.

The trip certainly started off in high hopes. For those that do not know, the crew of the RV Odyssey locate their primary study species, sperm whales, acoustically using a set of hydrophones dragged behind the boat. During our first leg from Key West up to Pensacola, we did not have this equipment. Picking the hydrophone up at our home base of Pensacola, we set out into the gulf with high hopes, even if it was only going to be a short trip.

We arrived back in Pensacola five days later after a trip of high emotions and some quite wonderful encounters. More than anything, it offered a renewed sense of purpose on the importance of protecting the magnificent biodiversity of the Gulf of Mexico. Some things, evidently, are very much worth fighting for.

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Spotlight on the RV Odyssey Crew - Marc Rosenberg

By Marc Rosenberg, Cook

Marc RosenbergMarc Rosenberg
Photo: Sea Shepherd / Eliza Muirhead
On April 10th 2014, I received an email from Peter Hammarstedt asking if I’d be interested in joining Sea Shepherd and Ocean Alliance’s Operation Toxic Gulf as my first Sea Shepherd campaign. Without hesitation I answered…“Yes”!

Twelve days later I touched down in Key West, Florida to join the crew already preparing the Ocean Alliance research vessel, RV Odyssey, which was hauled out at Robbie’s Boatyard on Stock Island, Key West.

After five weeks of glorious, blistering sunshine, no air conditioner and hard work, the Odyssey splashed back into the water with only a few more touches needed before the campaign commenced. Finally we set sail on June 4th after a refuel at Oceanside Marina. Spirits were high as weeks of hard work paid dividends with a spectacular sunset sending us on our way.

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Biopsies! Why?

By Dr. Roger Payne, Founder and President, Ocean Alliance & Member, Sea Shepherd Board of Directors

Dr. Roger Payne, Founder and President, Ocean Alliance & Member, Sea Shepherd Board of DirectorsDr. Roger Payne, Founder and President, Ocean Alliance & Member, Sea Shepherd Board of Directors
Photo: Sea Shepherd / Eliza Muirhead
Between 2002 and 2008 Ocean Alliance ran The Voyage of the Odyssey, a research expedition that circumnavigated the globe measuring background levels of contaminants in sperm whales. We came back with more than 900 samples, which we analyzed for a list of contaminants. The worst offending molecules turned out to be not just mercury and lead but chromium, aluminum, silver and several other highly toxic metals.

When I first gave Ocean Alliance this task, I realized there was nothing I wanted to do less than taking biopsies from sperm whales around the world. However, I also knew that all species of whales now face having to deal with the contaminants being dumped into the environment by humans. Considering Sea Shepherd’s unparalleled success in bringing the plight of whales to the world’s attention, I felt there could be no organization more effective in spreading the message about the deadly but elusively obscure problem of ocean contamination.

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Research Vessel RV Odyssey Returns to the Gulf of Mexico for a Fifth Season

By Iain Kerr

Dr. Iain Kerr aboard the RV OdysseyDr. Iain Kerr aboard the RV Odyssey
Photo: Sea Shepherd / Eliza Muirhead
I’ve spent the last two weeks with a remarkable international crew aboard the RV Odyssey prepping for our fifth summer of data and sample collection in the Gulf of Mexico, part of Ocean Alliance’s joint Operation Toxic Gulf campaign with Sea Shepherd. Our crewmembers represent six countries: Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Holland, Spain and the USA.

For many, the 2010 Gulf disaster is merely a distant memory. For the wildlife and residents of the Gulf, the legacy lives on, more often than not in the abyss. Ocean ecosystems are so complex and intertwined that it can sometimes be hard to link events with consequences. However, common sense can give you a good start on that long journey. When an oil well explosion releases more than 200 million gallons of oil and the slick it creates gets treated with an unprecedented 2-million-plus gallons of dispersants, reason should lead you to conclude that there will be significant consequences. After all, 25 years after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, its effects are still being felt in Alaska.

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