Dr. Holly Fearnbach is studying cetaceans in Southern California

SR3’s Dr. Holly Fearnbach is back in the field! For the next two months Holly will be partnering with NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center’s Marine Mammal and Turtle Division (MMTD) scientists (Drs. John Durban and Dave Weller) to assess the condition of cetaceans off San Diego County, with a focus on coastal bottlenose dolphins. They are using an unmanned hexacopter to obtain vertical images to assess size, body condition and pregnancy rates of individuals using photogrammetry, the science of making measurements from photos. Similar to the Southern Resident killer whale research project, 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. The project is off to a great start with eight flights flown last week. The team collected aerial images of 20 individual bottlenose dolphins, one group of ~ 75 long-beaked common dolphins and a minke whale (see photos). This project parallels the ongoing collaboration between MMTD, SR3 and the Coastal Ocean Research Institute to study the condition of Southern Resident killer whales in the coastal waters of Washington State. In both projects, aerial photogrammetry is being used to assess the health of populations that have a nearshore coastal distribution and are therefore exposed to a range of potential anthropogenic threats.

Aerial images of bottlenose dolphins (top right and bottom left), long-beaked common dolphins (top left) and a minke whale (bottom right) collected in the coastal waters off San Diego County for photogrammetry measurements. Images were taken with an unmanned hexacopter at >100ft altitude, with authorization under NMFS permit #19091.

Aerial images of bottlenose dolphins (top right and bottom left), long-beaked common dolphins (top left) and a minke whale (bottom right) collected in the coastal waters off San Diego County for photogrammetry measurements. Images were taken with an unmanned hexacopter at >100ft altitude, with authorization under NMFS permit #19091.