Dr. Fearnbach's San Juan Island update, week 2

SR3’s Dr. Holly Fearnbach and colleagues Drs. John Durban (NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center) and Lance Barrett-Lennard (Vancouver Aquarium) had a successful second week of their health assessment project of killer and humpback whales around the San Juan Islands. No Southern Resident killer whales were observed, but the team flew 22 flights using their small unmanned hexacopter. 

They collected aerial images of three Bigg’s (transient) killer whales and seven humpback whales, as well as two blow samples from humpback whales. Measurements will be taken from these images to evaluate body condition and estimate length for all individuals and the blow samples will be analyzed to identify viral and bacterial communities present in the respiratory tract and relate respiratory health to body condition.

Aerial images of three Bigg’s (“transient”) killer whales, including a 32 year old adult female and her two offspring, a 17 year old male and a 5 year old female (top left) and a humpback whale (top right). Images were obtained from an unmanned hexacopter that was flown >100ft above the whales under NMFS permit #19091.

Aerial images of three Bigg’s (“transient”) killer whales, including a 32 year old adult female and her two offspring, a 17 year old male and a 5 year old female (top left) and a humpback whale (top right). Images were obtained from an unmanned hexacopter that was flown >100ft above the whales under NMFS permit #19091.

Dr. Fearnbach pulling in marine debris.

In addition to their research, the team is doing their part to keep the Northwest waters clean by removing all observed marine debris. This week they retrieved a ~ 40 ft piece of plastic construction fencing that they found floating off San Juan Island.