Operation Toxic Gulf is noteworthy in that it is the first collaborative effort between Sea Shepherd and Ocean Alliance. Whether the threat comes from a grenade-tipped harpoon, or from environmental pollution, both organizations are committed to assessing and intervening against threats to marine wildlife. As Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson has so poignantly said, “If the oceans die, we die.”
It has now been four years since the BP toxic waste catastrophe in the Gull of Mexico, yet to date we continue to minimize by referring to it as the Gulf spill. A spill generally occurs when you knock over your drink or when you overfill your car’s fuel tank. The 210 million gallons of crude oil that were released into the Gulf between April 20th and July 15th 2010 hardly fall in this category. On top of that the 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants BP used to break up and sink the oil only further aggravated the disaster, by dispersing the oil into the food chain and making the oil up to 52 times more toxic.
Since 2010 Ocean Alliance has been studying the long-term effects of the Gulf of Mexico disaster and the chemical dispersants BP used to sink the oil out of sight (a step that only removes it from view but does not render it harmless) on sea life in the Gulf. The Gulf data collected since 2010 are both robust and unique, but Ocean Alliance needs help from Sea Shepherd to keep this work going and bring it to the world’s attention.
Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd intend to use this strategic collaboration to provide the data needed to understand the magnitude of these threats and to make the world vividly aware of the urgent need to end ocean pollution. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is best known for our protection of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, documented in Animal Planet’s popular television program Whale Wars. The Government of Japan uses a loophole in the moratorium on commercial whaling, claiming that their annual whale hunt is for scientific research. On March 31st, 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s JARPA II whaling program in the Southern Ocean was not, in fact, conducted for the purpose of scientific research, vindicating Sea Shepherd’s work. Ocean Alliance has been at the foreground of cutting edge research for over 40 years, boasting some of the most thorough and comprehensive scientific studies on whales, all done through non-lethal means.
Ocean Alliance has the scientific partners and expertise and Sea Shepherd has the media exposure to highlight the current situation. To us it is obvious that the massive stranding of dead dolphins and other marine life that have followed the BP oil disaster is only the beginning of an environmental catastrophe that could last well into this century. Only by accepting the facts can we prevent future disasters from happening. The chemical dispersants are still being used, despite their toxic characteristics. The Exxon Valdez disaster, at eleven million gallons of oil, was only a small fraction of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. 24 years after Exxon Valdez, a pod of 22 Orcas that lived in Prince William Sound is now functionally extinct. Nine died in the year after the spill, but more importantly no calves have been born to this pod since the event. Today only seven members remain.
Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd intend to build a strategic partnership to provide the data needed to understand the magnitude of these threats and to make the world vividly aware of the urgent need to end ocean pollution. Although these two organizations employ different approaches, Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd pursue the same goal: the conservation of ocean life. Ocean Alliance specializes in scientific research about, and advocacy for ocean life, while Sea Shepherd specializes in direct action against, and public exposure of the despoilers of ocean life. Both organizations are best known for their work protecting whales and publicizing their battles against extinction. Clearly, the approaches of Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd are complementary; by working as a team we can increase each other’s effectiveness.
Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd share several characteristics: each uses ocean-going vessels; each responds to new threats to ocean life as they appear; each operates on a global level; neither is afraid to tackle challenges that other organizations find too daunting; and each holds records for: “the first…,” “the most…, “the longest…,” “the biggest…, “the only...,” and so on. However, the bone-deepest similarity between Ocean Alliance and the Sea Shepherd movement is that each has unswervingly pursued the same goal for decades longer than conserving the oceans has been popular, and each can be relied upon to continue doing so long after the world’s quixotic attention has shifted elsewhere.
Media coverage of the Sea Shepherd movement’s activities is without equal, contributing to the films Sharkwater, Oceans, and The Cove, and Ocean Alliance has participated in the making of over forty documentaries about whales (including the IMAX film Whales).
Sometimes Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd have done things that were a direct consequence of what the other achieved: by publishing studies and helping to make films about the captivating things whales do, Ocean Alliance motivated people to fall in love with whales and, by extension, with ocean life. This produced a cohort of ocean advocates anxious to end whaling. By using direct action to publicize the horrors whalers commit against the same creatures these new ocean advocates value most, the Sea Shepherd movement has put forceful pressure on whalers to end the killing. We believe that through direct action Sea Shepherd can bring the research that Ocean Alliance has done on ocean pollution to the World’s attention. We also believe that once the world understands the magnitude of its threat, that an end to ocean pollution can eventually be achieved.
About Ocean Alliance
Ocean Alliance is the foremost scientific organization studying whales, developing many of the benign techniques now used worldwide to study whales, and continuing groundbreaking research methods. These techniques amass information more rapidly than conventional studies based on dead whales, as well as give the lie to the whalers’ baseless claim that only by killing whales can you obtain the information necessary for regulating whaling. Ocean Alliance studies can support Sea Shepherd’s efforts to focus the world’s attention on the falsity of Japan’s claim that her commercial whaling is “scientific whaling.” For 43 years, they have run the longest continuous study on known individual whales, following the lives of over 2,300 individual southern right whales—one of the most endangered whale species.
Ocean Alliance discovered that humpback whales sing songs, and that they continually change them, employing rhyme, likely to help them remember their songs, as the songs grow more complex over time. Ocean Alliance also discovered that before the advent of ships’ traffic noise the songs of blue and fin whales carried across oceans.
35 years ago, Ocean Alliance became concerned about the threat ocean pollution poses to whales. In order to measure how polluted whales have become, Ocean Alliance circled the world while collecting biopsy samples from sperm whales in all oceans. Dr. John Wise who runs the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine analyzed the more than 900 samples OA brought back. His analyses indicate that it is unsafe, particularly for children, to eat whale meat; it is simply too polluted. Such data provide scientific knowledge that Sea Shepherd can use to campaign against Japan’s policy of feeding surplus whale meat to school children.