Dr. Fearnbach's San Juan Island update, week 3

SR3’s Dr. Holly Fearnbach and colleagues Drs. John Durban (NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center) and Lance Barrett-Lennard (Vancouver Aquarium) had a successful third 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 19 flights with their small unmanned hexacopter over 10 Bigg’s (transient) killer whales and two humpback whales. During these flights, they collected high resolution aerial images that will be measured to evaluate body condition and estimate length for all individuals. The team was also able to collect aerial images of a predation event of a harbor seal by four Bigg’s killer whales, including the oldest male they have photographed to date, T87, who is estimated to be 55 years old.

Aerial image showing a female Bigg’s (“transient”) killer whale and her 1 year old calf; note that the female is carrying a harbor seal in her mouth before killing it and sharing it. Images were obtained from an unmanned hexacopter that was flown >100ft above the whales under NMFS permit #19091.