Dr. Holly Fearnbach, SR3’s Marine Mammal Research Director is out in the field again in Cape Cod, Massachusetts studying large whale health. Together with colleagues Dr. John Durban (NOAA), Drs. Michael Moore, Amy Apprill and Carolyn Miller (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution). The team are using unmanned hexacopter to assess the health of the endangered population of North Atlantic right whales, which are subject to a number of anthropogenic threats. This study is using photogrammetry to measure growth and body condition, and to document the incidence and severity of scars from entanglements in fishing gear and ship strikes. They are also using the hexacopter to collect whale blow to describe microorganisms in the respiratory tract, which are a common source of whale diseases. This population has been studied for decades and, as a result, the team can link high measures to individuals with known life histories, with the help of colleagues from the New England Aquarium. They have already successfully collected vertical photographs of 16 individuals and blow samples from three of these whales. The team hopes that these efforts will help diagnose the health of individual whales within this population and assist with management efforts to protect this endangered population. More details about this collaborative project can be found here.
Left: Overhead photogrammetry image of a North Atlantic right whale, taken from an unmanned hexacopter >150ft above the whale (note the characteristic v-shaped blow). Right: overhead image of the open blowholes of a North Atlantic right whale, taken during a lower descent to collect droplets of exhaled blow with the hexacopter (note the orange whale lice around the blowhole). Research authorized by NMFS permit #17355.