In 2013 and 2014 Sea Shepherd and Ocean Alliance teamed up for Operation Toxic Gulf. The campaigns mission was to investigate the long-term effects of BP's 2010 oil blowout on the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem. The research concentrated on the top apex predator in this ecosystem; the 1600 odd sperm whales that live in the Gulf. The amazing crew of activists, scientists and sailors spent these 3 months each year in the blistering heat tracking these whales acoustically, taking small skin samples for toxicological analysis and collecting various other data to better understand the true consequences of this massive oil disaster. I was sent over on behalf of Sea Shepherd to create the visual storytelling for this campaign. I was aboard the beautiful RV Odyssey for two consecutive summers and from up the mast to under the water, I produced all the photography and video material to tell the story of this amazing campaign.
This selection of photos is a small sample from my time at sea in the ever changing weather of the Gulf of Mexico. Never before have I been to a place where such astounding natural beauty collides with such ugliness, like that of the infrastructure and pollution associated with the massive oil industry there. I was surprised to capture such biodiversity, from the sperm whales, the highly endangered Bryde's whale, many different species of dolphins, to a chance encounter with the ever elusive beaked whale. Our team was recording pollution in both its visible form, in the way of floating plastic, old sunken clumps of oil washing up on the coastline, strange white scaring on some of the sperm whales and also in its invisible form by analysing samples of sperm whale skin and poo (finding tiny squid beaks!), developing ways to use a drone to collect whale snot samples, recording the underwater acoustics of both the animals and the infrastructure and using FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) technology to map thermal activity and track whales at night. Here is a series of photos from this work.
This video is from the end of the 2013 leg of Operation Toxic Gulf and explains the aim of the research. It features Captain Paul Watson, Dr Roger Payne, Dr Iain Kerr and some underwater footage from the RV Odyssey's amazing bow camera.
To find out more about Operation Toxic Gulf head over here.