SR3’s killer whale expert, Dr. Holly Fearnbach and her colleagues Drs. John Durban (NOAA) and Lance Barrett-Lennard (Coastal Ocean Research Institute) just finished their research effort on Vancouver Island, BC. The team flew an unmanned hexacopter for a total of 169 flights to collect high resolution vertical images that will be analyzed to assess individual health of both killer and humpback whales. They successfully photographed 150 different Northern Resident (fish-eating) killer whales (more than half the population), 15 Bigg’s (mammal-eating) killer whales and 15 humpback whales. They also used the hexacopter to collect 10 blow samples from humpback whales that will be used in respiratory microbiome studies in collaboration with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
This project was a huge success and now the team moves to San Juan Island for a 3-week health assessment of the endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW). This will be their second effort on SRKW in 2017 and will build upon six previous efforts in five different years dating back to 2008.