Drones And Their Use In Marine Conservation

Like many other industries, drones are being used to improve marine conservation efforts around the globe. Specifically, drones have done wonders in assisting with the research of whales.

The benefit of using drones in whale research is that detailed information can be gathered without disturbing the whales in their natural habitats. Plus, the use of drones is a much safer way of gathering data in areas that have traditionally posed a lot of restrictions and dangerous conditions.

The conservation organization Ocean Alliance is one of the biggest supporters of this kind of research. They use the drones to get a more accurate idea of the health of specific animals. Their drone, cleverly named “SnotBot,” allows their teams to collect data and actual biological samples from individual specimens without the whales knowing it. This gives them a level of data that’s never before been available.

SnotBot gets its name because the drones are used to collect samples of, well, whale snot. The samples help scientists determine the impact of pollution on whale health.

Another organization, Oceans Unmanned, uses drone technology to actually help detangle whales from fishing lines. Humpback whales make an annual migration to the warm waters of Hawaii and during their journey they can encounter many man-made threats, specifically fishing line and other plastic trash. If the tangles become too severe, whales can have trouble surfacing to breathe.

For years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has run volunteer teams tasked with untangling the animals. However, untangling a 40-ton whale from the side of a small boat presents some serious challenges and dangers. That’s where the drones are now playing a part.

The traditional method of untangling the large whales involved three separate encounters with the potentially dangerous animals. First, researchers had to approach the whales in order to assess just how bad the entanglement was. Then, they had to approach the animals again to actually cut the material free. Finally, a third approach was made to make sure all of the foreign material was gone and an assessment of the animal was made.

With the use of drones, the initial and final assessments can be made without endangering personnel. That means that the volunteers only need to approach the whales once, to cut the material free. It’s safer for the volunteers and the whales they’re trying to help.