Gray whales headed north are getting a checkup from SR3’s Dr. Holly Fearnbach and her colleagues from Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC). The team had another successful few weeks off the coast of San Diego. Using their small unmanned hexacopter, they flew an additional 17 flights over 35 bottlenose dolphins and seven juvenile gray whales to collect high-resolution vertical images that will be analyzed to assess the health of individuals.
Individual dolphins photographed from the air will be matched to a long-term photo-identification catalog, allowing measurements to be linked to individuals of known age and sex, while the length and condition of individual gray whales will be compared between the southbound migration to breeding grounds in Mexico in early winter and northbound migrations to feeding grounds in the Arctic in late spring.
Holly heads north to the central California coast at the start of April following the gray whales on their northern migration for a month-long health assessment. Stay tuned for more updates!
Aerial images of a playful juvenile gray whale trying to feed in the shallow waters off La Jolla, CA (note the mud coming from its mouth as it surfaces) (left) and then rolling playfully in the surf zone (right). These images were collected in the coastal waters off San Diego County with an unmanned hexacopter at >100ft altitude, with authorization under NMFS permit #19091.