Dr. Fearnbach heads to Piedras Blancas for the annual gray whale census

SR3’s Dr. Holly Fearnbach is heading back into the field. This time she is joining colleagues from NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) at the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse in central California during their annual northbound gray whale census. Each spring, gray whales migrate northwards along the coast of North America from breeding grounds off Mexico to feeding grounds in the North Pacific and Arctic. Holly and Dr. John Durban will use unmanned aerial vehicles to collect high resolution vertical images of gray whales to assess their health as they migrate past the lighthouse. The body condition of these individuals (mostly females and their young calves) will be evaluated by measuring breadth profiles of the whale along the body axis. Measurements will be compared between and within years to understand underlying causes of condition change and detect nutritional stress in the population.

Image showing the retrieval of the hexacopter at Piedras Blancas Lighthouse (left); Overhead images of a thin (middle) and robust (right) gray whale female and her calf as they migrate along the coast of Central California. Image taken using an unmanned hexacopter at an altitude of >100ft above the whale, with research approach authorized by NMFS permit # 19091. Credit: Durban, Fearnbach; NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center.

Image showing the retrieval of the hexacopter at Piedras Blancas Lighthouse (left); Overhead images of a thin (middle) and robust (right) gray whale female and her calf as they migrate along the coast of Central California. Image taken using an unmanned hexacopter at an altitude of >100ft above the whale, with research approach authorized by NMFS permit # 19091. Credit: Durban, Fearnbach; NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center.