5th year of gray whale health assessments

SR3’s Dr. Holly Fearnbach and colleagues from NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center have had a successful start to their gray whale health assessment project off Piedras Blancas Lighthouse near Big Sur, CA. This is the fifth year of this project and the team uses an unmanned octocopter to collect high resolution vertical images of gray whales as they migrate northwards along the coast of North America from breeding grounds off Mexico to productive feeding grounds in the Arctic. The aerial images will be analyzed to assess the body condition of females and the growth of their calves to understand trends in reproductive success. So far this year they have collected images of 22 female/calf pairs and 1 juvenile, adding to 228 pairs they have imaged since the start of the study. This is the final week of the project and then Holly is off to San Juan Island for a month-long aerial health assessment of the endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales. More updates to come!

Aerial image of a female/calf gray whale pair as they migrate past Piedras Blancas Lighthouse on the coast of Central California. Image taken from an unmanned octocopter >150ft above the whales, with flights over whales authorized by NMFS permit #19091.

Aerial image of a female/calf gray whale pair as they migrate past Piedras Blancas Lighthouse on the coast of Central California. Image taken from an unmanned octocopter >150ft above the whales, with flights over whales authorized by NMFS permit #19091.