Dr. Fearbach and team wrap up on the San Juans

SR3’s Dr. Holly Fearnbach and colleagues Drs. John Durban (NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center) and Lance Barrett-Lennard (Vancouver Aquarium) successfully completed the final week of their month-long health assessment of the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population.

The team flew 17 flights using a small unmanned hexacopter and successfully collected high resolution photogrammetry images of all 24 members of J-pod. These images will be analyzed as part of a long-term monitoring study to assess changes in growth and body condition of these whales across seasons and years and relate observed changes to returns of their Chinook salmon prey.

Overhead image of 12 members of J-pod from the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population. Body condition can be inferred from detailed analyses of these images, and measurements can be combined with hexacopter altitude to estimate lengths and growth over time. Image obtained form an unmanned hexacopter that was flown >100ft above the whales under NMFS permit #19091.

Overhead image of 12 members of J-pod from the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population. Body condition can be inferred from detailed analyses of these images, and measurements can be combined with hexacopter altitude to estimate lengths and growth over time. Image obtained form an unmanned hexacopter that was flown >100ft above the whales under NMFS permit #19091.

In total this May, the team flew 75 photogrammetry flights over 24 Southern Resident killer whales, 20 Bigg’s (transient) killer whales and 6 humpback whales. Two humpback whale blow samples were also collected as part of a worldwide study to assess how whale respiratory microbiome (viral and bacterial communities) relates to body condition. Holly, John and Lance will return to San Juan Island in September to see how the condition of the whales has changed after summer salmon returns.

Now Holly is in Port Angeles with colleagues from SR3, Cascadia Research Collective and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for a four-day long training on large whale disentanglement.