Antarctica update, part two

 Humpback whale blow sample collection with an unmanned hexacopter.

Humpback whale blow sample collection with an unmanned hexacopter.

Dr. Holly Fearnbach, Marine Mammal Research Director for SR3, is still doing great work in Antarctica. In addition to the photogrammetry analysis project we posted about previously (updates-from-antarctica), she and her collaborator Dr. John Durban are also is also gathering humpback whale blow samples for a collaborative project with NOAA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

To collect samples, Dr. Fearnbach and her team use the same hexacopter drone they use to collect aerial photographs. However, now the drone is equipped with two sterile plates, one mounted on the top of the hexacopter and one attached to an arm that is extended forward. The hexacopter is then flown through the powerful exhaled blow of whales and the breath droplets that land on the plates are collected and stored for future genetic analysis.

 Blow sample processing around the Antarctic Peninsula.

Blow sample processing around the Antarctic Peninsula.

This project will use the samples Dr. Fearnbach and colleagues have collected around the Antarctic Peninsula, off the coast of Massachusetts, and the coastal waters of the NE Pacific to study respiratory microorganisms and emerging diseases of large whales.

This project is supported by a grant from the Lindblad-National Geographic (LEX-NG) fund. Research approach authorized under Permit NMFS Permit # 19091 and Antarctic Conservation Act Permit ACA 2017-029.