Want to See a Drone Collect Whale ‘Snot’ Samples?

Drone company DJI has released a new video showing how Ocean Alliance has improved its study of whales by flying drones directly into the spray of fluid they exhale when they surface – a mission called “Snotbot.”

The new video, available on DJI’s YouTube channel, shows researchers mounting collection devices on DJI Inspire 1 drones and flying them over whales as they blow fluid in the air. The footage documents how drones are able to collect better samples at less risk and lower cost while minimizing disruption to the largest animals on earth.

“DJI is thrilled that our drones are helping benefit these majestic creatures by making it easier for scientists to study and protect them,” says Paul Pan, senior product manager at DJI. “Around the world, drone users are finding new and innovative uses for our aerial platforms, and ‘Snotbot’ is clearly one of the most dramatic examples of how low-cost aerial technology can improve science as well as business and recreation.”

Ocean Alliance researchers flew 80 missions over blue, grey and humpback whales in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez under a research permit from the University of La Paz. They collected samples of lung linings that allow them to analyze DNA, detect viruses and bacteria, search for toxins, and measure hormone levels that are affected by reproductive cycles and stress levels.

“The idea behind ‘Snotbot’ is to collect physical, biological data, and video and photographs from a whale without the whale knowing, and we needed a drone to collect that data,” explains Dr. Iain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance. “We can observe intimate behavior without having a giant helicopter or an airplane, which is expensive and dangerous. This is going to give us a whole new perspective. We can help conserve this animal.”

According to DJI, traditional techniques for studying whales require a motorboat to chase them so they can be stung by a research dart. Ocean Alliance used Inspire 1 and Phantom drones controlled by researchers on boats up to half a mile away, reducing stress on the animals while capturing larger samples from more whales. The DJI drones also took photographs and video that allows researchers to identify and study individual whales.


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