Drone Technology Helps NOAA Scientists Study Whales Off Hawaii

A Killer Whale bursts through the surface of the water. Also, known as the Orca Whale, or just Orca, these predators have no known natural predators. (Photo Credit: © iStock)

#Drone #HawaiiDrone Technology Helps NOAA Scientists Study Whales Off Hawaii : How can scientists study whales and dolphins without disturbing the animals’ natural behavior or facing extreme weather conditions themselves?

For the first time ever, a team of federal ecologists employed the use of drone technology during a 30-day expedition in Hawaii to help better study these marine animals. The use of drones contributes to a growing trend in research amid efforts to maintain healthy populations of whales and dolphins.

Difficulties In Research

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) admit that collecting data on whales and dolphins is often difficult, particularly around the windward coasts of the Hawaiian Islands.

During the 30-day expedition, NOAA researchers rode on a large ship — instead of typical small survey boats — and roamed around the Hawaiian coasts. In these areas, severe weather conditions and intense wind make it hard for explorers to navigate and remain at sea.

Benefits Of Using Drones

With these in mind, researchers used a hexacopter drone to capture images of the dolphins and whales — something they have never performed before in the region.

According to Erin Oleson, leader of the NOAA expedition, drones allow scientists to get better photographs of whale groups because the animals are not disturbed by approaching boats or ships. “We wanted a way of calibrating the observers,” says Oleson.

Oleson says there are about more than 20 species of whales and dolphins around Hawaii. The drone’s vantage point also provided them the opportunity to more accurately count the number of whale individuals in a pod, including calves and mothers that sometimes remain underwater.