Yes, it appears that scientists have discovered yet another application for drones. Researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that drones can successfully be used to determine whether or not dolphins are pregnant.
The researchers discovered that assessing the breadth of a dolphin’s body revealed in aerial pictures could identify pregnant females.
Previously, only successful deliveries were acknowledged when dolphins were observed with a calf. The study was conducted by researchers at the university’s Cromarty Lighthouse Field Station.
The team of researchers has been tracking the bottlenose dolphin population that inhabits the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation for more than 30 years.
The study was conducted in collaboration with Duke University’s Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Laboratory (MaRRS) in the United States and has been called the first to non-invasively detect if protected female bottlenose dolphins are pregnant.
The researchers compared the aerial images from drones with data from long-term records, such as whether the females had given birth and when.
Drones provide wealth of new data on dolphin population
“We only knew about successful pregnancies, and didn’t know how many pregnancies failed or how many calves died before we saw them,” Dr. Barbara Cheney from the University of Aberdeen said.
“The main aim of the study was to explore whether we could remotely determine pregnancy status from aerial photographs taken using an unoccupied aerial system or drone.
“Similar studies have been carried out for larger whales but as far as we know this is the first time it has been done for small cetaceans.”
Researchers hope to collect data on failed pregnancies, which might provide insight into a daolphin’s health and assist in the identification of causes of population decline, such as food scarcity.
“By using aerial photos this will allow us to routinely monitor changes in reproductive success in this protected bottlenose dolphin population, supporting conservation, Dr Cheney said to BBC News.
“Data on failed pregnancies could provide information on how healthy a particular dolphin is as well as helping to identify the causes of changes in the population.”
“Gathering Information is also particularly challenging in cetaceans that are highly mobile and spend much of their time underwater. This study will provide us with a wealth of new data to further improve our knowledge and understanding of reproductive success in bottlenose dolphins.”
The research has been published in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation.
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