First ever blow sample collected from a minke whale - quite the feat! A busy day with humpback and minke whales brought the first expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula onboard Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Explorer to a close. In addition to flying a small unmanned hexacopter at an altitude of > 100ft to collect high resolution images of whales to assess individual body condition, they also fly the hexacopter at a much lower altitude of 6-12 ft to collect samples of whale blow exhalate. These samples are used to evaluate respiratory microbiome (bacterial) communities to assess respiratory health. Dr. Holly Fearnbach, SR3’s Marine Mammal Research Director, and her colleagues John Durban (NOAA) and Leigh Hickmott (Open Ocean Consulting) flew a total of 23 flights over five B1 killer whales, four humpback whales and 20 Antarctic minke whales and collected six blow samples (three minke and three humpback). This was the first time a blow sample has ever been collected from a minke whale anywhere in the world- a hugely successful start to the season!! These research efforts are supported by the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Fund (LEX-NG), NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center and SR3.
Photograph of the hexacopter over an Antarctic minke whale during a blow sample collection and vertical photograph of an Antarctic minke whale. Blow will be analyzed to assess respiratory health and images will be measured to estimate size and assess body condition. Images were collected using a small unmanned hexacopter. Research conducted under NMFS Permit No. 19091 and Antarctic Conservation Act Permit ACA 2017-029.