Remember the SnotBot? A few years ago, the Ocean Alliance used a DJI Inspire 2 drone to collect snot from whales. At the time, it was recognized as one of the more innovative uses of drones. Now, we learn that the Ocean Alliance is using drones to tag whales as well.
The drones are flown right over the whales and drop the suction-cup tags as soon as the mammals breach the ocean surface.
See videos below for the tagging and SnotBot in action.
Using a drones to tag whales
“Our drone-based suction cup tag deployment methods work for multiple types of tags,” explains Ocean Alliance. “These smaller, lighter tags use a specially designed tag holder to ensure the tag falls straight and properly attaches to the whale. It’s designed to pop off after attachment and float for recovery and reuse.”
“One of the most important tools in whale research right now are biologging data tags. These tags stick onto the back of a whale with suction cups (typically for around 24 hours) and give scientists enormous insights into how whales communicate, cooperate, and live their lives beneath the surface in the presence of humans. These tags can provide depth, orientation, acceleration, acoustics, GPS locations and even video! The challenge with these tags has been attaching them onto the whale, we wanted to see if we could make this less stressful and safer for both whales and humans.”
Why use drones to tag a whale?
The most significant benefit of a drone is its low cost. A researcher now can acquire data that would have cost $20,000 or more a decade ago using a $1,000 drone.
Less expensive and more advanced drones are making Wildlife research increasingly accessible to researchers, citizen scientists, educators, and policymakers around the world.
The data tags that are dropped by drones onto the whales are minicomputers (the size of a hockey puck) that connect to the animal using suction cups.
The drone-dropped tags provide fascinating insights into whales’ underwater lifestyles. Until today, the only option for researchers to attach a data tag to a whale was to get a small boat near enough to use a 20- to 30-foot-long pole to affix the tag. This is both difficult and possibly harmful for both whales and people.
Drones provide researchers with a safer, less expensive, and less intrusive way of tagging endangered species, animals in difficult-to-access regions, and animals that are tough to approach.
Drones tagging whales and SnotBot (videos)
Photos courtesy of Ocean Alliance and SnotBot.
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