SR3’s Dr. Holly Fearnbach and colleagues Drs. John Durban (NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center) and Lance Barrett-Lennard (Coastal Ocean Research Institute) are currently on San Juan Island, WA, conducting a health assessment of the endangered Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) population. They are using a small, unmanned drone to collect high-resolution aerial images that are measured to assess the size, body condition and pregnancy rates of individuals using photogrammetry, the science of making measurements from photos.
The endangered SRKW population now numbers 76 individuals (data from Center for Whale Research), the lowest abundance in more than two decades. There is increasing concern about the nutritional health of SRKWs due to limited availability of Chinook salmon, their primary prey. By tracking the condition of individuals through time, photogrammetry is a powerful tool to support recovery actions aimed at maintaining an adequate food supply, and for monitoring the success of any future actions.