Ocean Alliance’s mission is to protect whales and their ocean environment through research, scientific collaboration, public education, and the arts. Ocean Alliance, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit Organization, and was founded in 1971.
Ocean Alliance studies whales. Why? Generally speaking, most people and countries around the world want to save whales – only a few countries still hunt whales. Commercial whaling, particularly during the 20th century, devastated whale populations and left many teetering on the verge of extinction. Only by the dedicated efforts of the Save the Whale movement, of which our Founder and President Dr. Roger Payne was a key part, were they saved. Many species have yet to recover from commercial whaling, and today they face a new barrage of threats including climate change, noise pollution, and chemical pollution. The problem is that we don’t know how best to protect them. They are difficult to study, and difficult to understand. The solution to this is conservation science – collecting data that will help us protect these animals. Only conservation science can help us better understand whales, so that we can more effectively protect them.
Ocean Alliance educates the public about whales, the threats they face, and what we can all do about them. This has many benefits. The more people know about whales and these threats, the more they can do to stop them and to help the whales. When more of the public care about whales, this also puts more pressure on governments to introduce better rules and laws meant to protect these extraordinary animals.
We educate the public through social and traditional media, through documentaries, through talks at schools/universities/colleges, by attending events and conferences, and through our own education programs.
Through conservation, we aim to ensure that our research and education efforts translate into positive benefits for whales and their ocean environment. This means working with a very broad range of partners to ensure that our science is put to good use, and that the public know what they can do to help whales. This includes large communication groups such as Parley for the Oceans, activist environmental groups such as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, government organisations such as NOAA and NMFS, industry/technology groups such as Intel and FLIR Systems, local schools, local community groups, online environmental communities, local non-profits, and many others.
In addition to carrying out our own research, we are also serial collaborators. During our +50-year history we have built up an enormous wealth of experience, a global network of partners, and vast datasets on whales across the planet. We use these to full effect. We facilitate science on an extensive, global scale: partnering with everyone from major oceanographic research groups to individual researchers working in far-off pockets of the world. We use our networks to connect and train interested parties in whale research techniques, and we share our own data. In 2020, we helped 32 different research programs across the globe, each one a fully-fledged program in its own right. THIRTY-TWO! While the positive impact for whales of our own research is big, the accumulated impact of all these programs is enormous.
Our founder Dr. Roger Payne, and our CEO Dr. Iain Kerr our both recognized as ocean elders, leaders in our efforts to save the ocean. MacArthur Genius Award winner Dr. Payne is widely considered the father of modern whale biology. His discovery in the 1960’s that humpback whale’s sing songs was crucial in the success of the global Save the Whale movement. Dr. Kerr is known as a pioneering proponent of the role of technology in marine science, as well as an eternal source of ocean optimism. Dr. Kerr has given multiple talks on these themes over the past decade, including speaking at the UN General Assembly HQ in New York on three occasions. In 2014, both Dr.’s Payne and Kerr were labelled Visionary Leaders by the Annenberg Foundation.
Today, Ocean Alliance is perhaps best known for our use of drones in whale science. In 2013 Dr. Iain Kerr recognised drones as harbouring enormous potential in whale science, and in 2015 our SnotBot program launched with help from Sir Patrick Stewart. The program has been an unmitigated success, and one of Ocean Alliance’s greatest contributions to whale conservation. We have collected over 400 blow samples from six species in five different countries. In each country we have worked with, trained, and left drones with local research groups in each place to ensure the sustainability of the work. The program has proven a remarkable tool of science communication, being featured in hundreds of articles in the press, as well as four major documentaries: Earth Live and One Strange Rock (NatGeo), Equator from the Air and Blue Planet Live (BBC). Most importantly, the SnotBot program has played a crucial role in the rapid growth of drones in whale science.
Throughout our history, Ocean Alliance has collected enormous quantities of data. As the world’s first large whale research non-profit, these datasets are unique in how much time they cover. We are continually looking for new ways to use these datasets. In the early 2020’s we began a huge drive to digitize these data collections. The main three programs are the Southern right whale program (1971-present), whale bioacoustics library (1955-1994), and the Voyage of the Odyssey (2000-2005). All of these major programs have played an important role in shaping whale science. The Southern right whale program is the longest continually running study on a great whale on the planet, and has been key in laying foundations for modern whale science. Our bioacoustics work shed light on the fact that humpback whales sing songs, a discovery that played an important role in the global Save the Whale movement. And the Voyage of the Odyssey program demonstrated the dangerously high levels of pollutants which exist in all the world’s oceans.
In 2008, Ocean Alliance purchased the Tarr & Wonson Paint Factory building in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a proud icon of the cities’ magnificent maritime heritage, to serve as our new headquarters. Lying derelict since the 1980s, Ocean Alliance has been renovating and cleaning up the dilapidated and toxic (a legacy of the anti-fouling paint that was produced here) for over a decade. We are restoring and converting the buildings into an ocean innovation center. Sustainable use of the oceans through uses such as clean energy (i.e. wind and tidal power), aquaculture, and whale friendly fishing techniques are the future of our ocean: and these are the kind of technologies we hope to foster at the site. The buildings act as a link between Gloucester’s past and its future as part of the global Blue Economy.