Unlike the controversial drones of the U. S. military, drones for studying whales are receiving a warm welcome. Especially from scientists. They provided lovely videos at the recent Ways of the Whales day-long program, adding nicely to the slides of scientific data.
A New Point of View
The remote controlled hexacopters fly quietly down to 100 feet. They help avoid the dangers that real helicopters pose for scientists and they avoid the intrusiveness that tagging poses for the whales.
Tracking Whale Health
So far, information from the whale shapes alone (photogrammetry) is providing measurements on Northern Resident Orcas showing which whales are healthy vs. dangerously skinny, and those who are pregnant.
For a brief summary of how this all works, click on this 11 minute video, narrated by Dr. John Durban, who presented at Way of the Whales.
Open Ocean Options
This research is taking place in the relatively accessible inland waters of the northwest where resident Orcas have been closely studied for years. Since we are at the beginning of using drones, I’m hoping improved versions will make it less expensive to study ocean-going whales that are far offshore.