Drone used to collect whale sample

08.09.2015 07:16
Kategorie: News

Research made possible via crowdfunding

Walforschung © Ocean Alliance
The scientists at Ocean Alliance have a mission to study whales in the wild, and they wanted to do it without using any invasive action that would disrupt the whales’ natural behaviour.

So, they constructed a custom-built drone called Snotbot to achieve their objectives. And to fund the initiative, over US$230,000 had been raised through the crowdfunding website kickstarter.com.

For the research, samples would be collected using a specially modified drone that would be steered directly above a surfacing whale. When the whale exhales through its blowhole, the breath of the whale (also known as “snot”) splashes onto the drone and its unique sponge appendages, which would absorb the moisture.

But why collect snot?

From the samples collected, loads of information can be revealed about the whale. Such information include virus and bacteria loads, generic material, environmental toxins, etc. Scientists can also the whale’s stress levels (to ascertain human impact) and hormonal levels (to check reproductive status), among other things.

Such a non-invasive approach to sample collection would a big improvement from current methods in which the whale is chased and then restrained, which places a lot of stress on the animal (and inadvertently leads to misleading data).

Snotbot © Ocean Alliance
Using the Snotbot, scientists remain at a distance, and manoeuvre it above the whale. Thus, the whales experiences almost zero stress. They would be unaware of the drone flying above them.

To perfect their piloting skills, before heading out into the field, the scientists have been practising in the lab, using artificially created water fountains.

For a start, for its first sample collection, the Snotbot would soon be deployed to the South Atlantic, off the Argentinean coast.

Ocean Alliance: www.whale.org

Additional Videos: www.whale.org/the-mission/media/