Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Whale watching

Whale watching National Marine Fisheries Service permit 17355-01 and NOAA Class G flight authorization 2015-ESA-4-NOAA
10 Oct
2015
An aerial drone fitted with analytical equipment is helping marine scientists assess the health of endangered whale species

Above a surfacing humpback whale in the waters off New England, a six-rotor hexacopter hovers, waiting to be soaked by spray from the majestic creatures’ spout.

On a nearby boat, marine biologists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution patiently keep the specially-kitted drone in position. The drone’s attached sponges will absorb the moisture – brimming with microorganisms, DNA, hormones and bacteria from the whale’s respiratory tract. Once collected and returned to the lab, these samples will open up a wealth of data and can be used to determine family history, stress levels, and the whale’s overall health. Meanwhile, a high-resolution camera is used to alert scientists to any skin lesions as well as indicate the whale’s fat levels

‘With blue whales and humpback whales we have yet to detect any reaction when doing photogrammetry overflights at higher altitudes or with breath sampling at lower altitudes,’ explained Michael Moore, director of the WHOI Marine Mammal Center. ‘Interestingly, there are often seagulls around the drone. They are more or less the same size and the copter seems to blend in.’

After a successful test with humpback whales in Stellwagen, off the coast of New England, the biologists hope to take the drone to analyse the same species living near the Antarctic Peninsula. By analysing both sets of results, they will compare the health of humpbacks living in pristine conditions against those living nearer to shipping traffic, pollution and fishing.

‘This will give us a new understanding of the relationship between whale body condition and health in the context of habitat quality,’ said Moore.

This article was published in the October 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine.

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

A look at the contribution of hippos to the savannah…

Wildlife

The new app encourages young children to connect with the…

Energy

A type of panel has been invented that can generate…

Tectonics

In the 4th century BC, Aristotle proposed that earthquakes were…

Climate

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management pledges to achieve net…

Tectonics

Earthquakes from time immemorial have attracted the attention of the…

Tectonics

A planned kayaking expedition in Nepal took on a whole…

Tectonics

Scientists from Bristol University are working in conjunction with EDF…

Tectonics

In the 1930s, Charles Richter developed a simple scale for…

Tectonics

Researchers at Colombia University have answered a question that has…

Tectonics

How prepared can any government or city be against a…

Tectonics

Benjamin Hennig creates a series of cartograms to demonstrate the…

Wildlife

Could grey seals singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star help develop…

Climate

Deep sea expert Dr Alex Rogers explains the importance of…

Oceans

Analysis of coral cores, extracted from coral reefs in the…

Wildlife

Celebrities and animal welfare groups have been expressing their disappointment…

Geophoto

In a series of photographs from his recent trip to…