Bicontinental Research Team Looks to Drones to Study Whale Behavior

Washington state’s Center for Whale Research (CWR) is teaming up with the University of York and University of Exeter in the U.K. to study how drones could help understand killer whale behavior and eventually help protect the species.

Using unmanned aircraft, the researchers plan to collect new data about how whales interact. In turn, the research team says, the information will allow them to understand which social behavior helps whale reproductive success.

In addition, the University of Exeter has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help support the work.

“The killer whales that we work on are majestic and iconic animals,” says Dr. Dan Franks, reader in the University of York’s department of biology. “But they are listed as endangered, and it’s thought that the population could be extinct within the next century if conditions do not improve.

“They are an extremely social animal, and family members support and help each other. Drones will provide us with a bird’s-eye view of interactions – such as food sharing and babysitting – allowing us to study the impact of social behavior on their health, survival and reproduction,” Franks says.


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