Remotely controlled craft samples spray of humpback whales
Acquired under National Marine Fisheries Service Permit 17355-01 and NOAA Class G flight authorization 2015-ESA-4-NOAA, John Durban/Southwest Fisheries Science Center/NMFS/NOAA, M. Moore/WHOI
This drone’s-eye view captures two humpback whales blowing a net of bubbles around their prey. Yet portraiture is only half of what whale-watching drones can do.
The remotely controlled hexacopter that snapped this image off the New England coast last summer can also swing down to catch samples of spray that whales spout when they surface. The spray carries microbes, DNA and hormones that can expose a whale’s health and history.
Michael Moore, a whale biologist and veterinarian at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, says the snap-and-sniff idea grew out of puzzling over photos of individual whales. “The biologist in me looks at the image and says, ‘It’s fat,’ but the veterinarian wants to know why,” he says. So Moore and his colleagues use a drone to take pictures of,