Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), perhaps most famously known as the conservation group featured on Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars,” is currently assisting Ocean Alliance with sperm whale research in the Gulf of Mexico.
Fresh from a stint in the Antarctic, Hillary Watson and Eliza Muirhead spoke with the IN on Tuesday while on a supply stop for their ongoing endeavor in the Gulf on the Research Vessel Odyssey.
A Sea Shepherd team, Watson and Muirhead among them, are participating in Ocean Alliance’s fourth consecutive year of studying the effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster on Gulf sperm whales, a study known as “Operation Toxic Gulf.”
As an apex predator, Muirhead explained, “Sperm whales are a good biological indicator of what’s going on,” as they are at the top of the food chain and eat smaller animals, and ultimately wind up with the most toxins in their system.
This year, Sea Shepherd stepped in to assist with Operation Toxic Gulf because Ocean Alliance’s funding for the operation was lacking. The research is a collaborative effort which will include Dr. Roger Payne, the marine scientist who discovered whale songs, on the next part of the voyage.
Though different from their typical direct action work blocking whaling vessels—their last Antarctic expedition resulted in saving 952 whales from Japanese whalers—the non-lethal biological data collection in the Gulf is also paired with garbage/rubbish removal and sampling oil slicks when they are encountered.
“We’re looking for the invisible and long term effects of the spill and dispersant use,” said Watson, whose uncle, Captain Paul Watson, founded SSCS in 1977 and is featured on the television series.
The crew will give tours of the R/V Odyssey, docked at the Palafox Pier Marina (beside Jaco’s), from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Wednesday, July 3 before heading out on the next leg of research.