Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Studying Whales with Drones

Wayne Perryman, a marine biologist with NOAA Fisheries, launches an unmanned aircraft into the sky above the South Pacific. Perryman uses aerial drones to get close to sperm whales so that he can study their health and physiology. Photo credit: Moira Brown, New England Aquarium.
Counting whales has gone to the drones.  

After years of struggling to survive, the gray whales that migrate along the western Pacific coastline—from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Mexico—are now under the watchful eye of a hexacopter drone.

Dedicated professionals and volunteers count the migrating gray whales every spring.  It’s been an imperfect count because they can’t always count whales swimming by at night or in stormy weather.  Fortunately, the new whale mothers swim very close to the shore when they take their new calves on their first big swim from Mexico to Alaska.

The drones add an extra “eye” that helps scientists measure the passing whales and observe the mother’s weight and health.  

Blue Whale near San Diego, Ca.

These camera-equipped drones also track orcas (killer whales), sperm whales, blue whales, stellar sea lions, leopard seals and penquins in Antarctica.

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