We’ve reported a number of times on the fantastic work undertaken by Ocean Alliance, a marine conservation organization using drones to study whales at sea.
Ocean Alliance’s Dr Iain Kerr devised a way to capture biological data from whale’s blows using adapted DJI aircraft. ‘Flying Petri Dish’ isn’t very catchy, so they named the concept SnotBot instead. Previously Kerr’s team had to resort to manual biopsies, using harpoons to gather data on whales’ DNA, stress and pregnancy hormones, viruses, bacteria, toxins and more.
With SnotBot that process is quicker, safer, more reliable and clearly preferable from the point of view of both researchers and whales.
“Instead of five whales a day, we can now sample 20 using our DJI Inspire-based drone,” Kerr explains. “The SnotBot flies 40 MPH, so even if we are 1,000 feet away, it can be at the blow site in 15 seconds.”
But it isn’t perfect. Kerr says that the team only gets usable samples half the time because of how difficult it is to handle the drone in windy conditions at sea. “When I hover the drone 12 feet above an animal, I can’t see which way wind is blowing and I regularly miss the blow. It is very frustrating,” he said.