Project Management


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In northeastern Massachusetts you will find a town called Gloucester.  Importantly, it is properly pronounced “GLAW-stah”, not “Glow-chester”.  Not even close.

This post, despite the title, is not about pronunciation.  Rather, it somehow interweaves portfolios, copper paint, whales, and something (I am not making this up) called a Snotbot®.

Really, this is a Program Management story.  The Program is that of the Ocean Alliance.  Remember, a Program is a collection of projects, which, managed together, can achieve benefits not available if they were managed separately.  You could probably argue that this is a Portfolio as well.  We can have that argument later.  For now, let’s discuss the initiatives of the Ocean Alliance, because they are interesting and important no matter what we call them.

At the forefront of this is Chief Executive Dr. Iain Kerr, who joined the group 30 years ago, being offered a job captaining research vessels in the Galapagos by none other than Roger Payne, famous for his discovery and promotion of whale song.  We could easily do an entire blog post (and may yet) on Roger Payne.  For now, bookmark him as a famous person who brought Iain Kerr into the Ocean Alliance, and now it’s Kerr who has been the chief executive of the Ocean Alliance organization since 1990.

I’ll discuss two of the projects in the Ocean Alliance’s portfolio (I settled on Portfolio after studying the group for a while). 

The first of these two projects involves the aforementioned Snotbot®.  Let’s consider the project to be the introduction of this tool, and now the product of the project – the Snotbot – is in operation.  So what is a Snotbot?

From the Ocean Alliance webpage:

 SnotBot® is a modified consumer drone which flies through the blow of a whale and collects exhaled “snot” on petri dishes. This blow contains a treasure trove of valuable biological information: DNA, stress and pregnancy hormones, microbiomes and potentially many other biological compounds/indicators of the animal’s health and ecology. Best of all, the whale doesn’t even know we are there: This is a non-invasive tool that is safer for the animals and cheaper and more effective for the user.

Advantages of Snotbot:

Democratizing Science: A single tool that can collect a wide range of data but that costs relatively little represents a paradigm shift in the way we study whales. Drones can empower groups in the developing world, enabling them to conduct research and collect data on marine mammals that they would not be able to do using the research vessel model.

Benign:  Ocean Alliance was founded by Dr. Roger Payne on the premise of studying whales without doing them harm. Especially when working with endangered species, it is vital not to add to the stresses facing the animals while conducting research. During 7oo approaches to whales to collect snot samples, there have only been 3 reactions to the drone.

Vast range of data: The blow samples that SnotBot collects contain DNA, stress and pregnancy hormones, and microbiomes, and possibly other indicators of the animal’s health.


Below is a photo and a video to show you this amazing innovation in action.


The second of these two projects is a more traditional construction – or rather, restoration project, having very much to do with the town of Gloucester, famous as the first seaport of the United States, and famous of course, the Fisherman Memorial statue, as depicted in the header of this blog post.

However, Gloucester is also the home of a “manufactory” of copper paint, after two men (Tarr and Wonson) invented an elixir of copper oxide and other substances, which, when painted on the hulls of ships, prevented the “fouling” of these vessels by barnacles and other sea life.   They received a patent for the paint in 1863 and began manufacturing it here in Gloucester, shipping it in vast quantities, worldwide.

Photo: (C) Cape Ann Museum


 It had an effect on seagoing vessels of all kinds, from small boats to warships. Read more about the fascinating history of this copper paint here.  Indeed, you can learn about the history of the Tarr and Wonson Manufactory in the video below.

The buildings eventually became abandoned and fell into disrepair.

Dr. Kerr and the Ocean Alliance has taken on the project of restoring these landmark buildings – making them their headquarters.

Here’s a video tour of Copper Paint factory:

The Ocean Alliance is up to much more that these two projects – you can see that clearly at their website.

Whether you call their work a Portfolio or a Program, you can see that this is an example of an organization focused on good.  It’s inspiring!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: October 09, 2021 11:10 PM | Permalink

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