Whale researcher Dr. Roger Payne. Dr. Payne's research shows that ocean pollution is the greatest threat to whales. Photo: Sea Shepherd4 November 2014 (SSCS) – For more than four decades, environmentalist, Dr. Roger Payne, famous in the scientific world for discovering that humpback whales sing and communicate across the world’s oceans, has known a thing or two about the plight of the great whales and the oceans. He contends that while it is crucial to get whaling under control, whales now face a potentially greater problem — pollution.

Not only is Dr. Payne an active board member of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, he is also the founder of Ocean Alliance, a non-profit ocean and whale conservation organization focusing on benign whale research. Therefore, it was quite fitting for Sea Shepherd and Ocean Alliance to team up for their Operation Toxic Gulf campaign. In the summer of 2010, Ocean Alliance undertook this campaign in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon blowout to research the effects upon Gulf of Mexico marine life, and Sea Shepherd was on board for the last two collaborative seasons, concluding their participation this past August. The campaign data and findings are being analyzed for a joint report expected to be issued in 2015.

“It’s absolutely essential for scientists to work with organizations that can get the word out. I’ve known Sea Shepherd for years. They do extraordinary work. People at Sea Shepherd have mastered the art of getting the world’s attention…something that can highly benefit scientists,” said Dr. Payne.

Sea Shepherd and Ocean Alliance have been gathering samples from sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico to understand the long-term effects of the dispersants used to mask the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the worst ecological disaster in U.S. history.

“We’re studying sperm whales because like people, they are at the top of the food chain. What we learn about sperm whales, is also undoubtedly true for humans,” Dr. Payne explained. “The most important functions of life are controlled by a series of hormones, and some substances (synthetic man-made molecules), are affecting hormone concentrations and abilities of hormones to work with cells in such a way that’s devastating to organisms.”

Logo for Sea Shepherd's Operation Toxic Gulf. Graphic: Sea Shepherd

The findings from the years of dedicated research should help determine the current state of the Gulf’s ecosystem, and perhaps more importantly, yield ways to help it recover from the pollution that it has thus far sustained.

"My feeling about Sea Shepherd is that what the world needs to hear is the truth and when the world does hear the truth, how does it respond? It attacks it with everything its got. I think this is an extraordinary organization of brave people who do important work at the absolute root of the cause of the problems in this world and that they should be respected and understood and so I’m now going to be spending a lot of my time trying to make that happen. The oceans are important to all of us because every second breath you take contains oxygen that was produced by plants from the sea and everything that happens in the ocean affects everything that happens on the land. If we destroy the base of the ocean by filling it with toxic pollutants, we will destroy ourselves. That will be the end of human civilization. I want to see people if possible working to help save the oceans and there’s no group that does it with more effect I think at the moment than Sea Shepherd."

Dr. Roger Payne Cites Pollution as the Greatest Problem Facing Whales Today



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