With the help of a flying drone, scientists are able to see a pod of killer whales from a whole new perspective.
Scientists from the Vancouver Aquarium and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched a drone barely bigger than a toy helicopter in August 2014 to survey killer whales in British Columbia. The drone took 60 flights and took thousands of photos and hours of video, which scientists can use to evaluate the health of orcas in the pod.
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Researchers say the drone is less bothersome to the whales than a plane or helicopter, and doesn’t put a human pilot in danger. A noisy piloted aircraft can also scare the animals, causing them to dive and disappear from sight, while the quiet drone used by the scientists appears to have gone unnoticed by the orcas. Most footage was shot within 100 feet, but scientists said the whales were indifferent when the drone was just 30 feet away.
With the images gained from the drones, researchers can determine if an orca is pregnant. Drone footage can also determine if the animals start to show signs of weight loss, so researchers can recommend changes to commercial fishing in the area and ensure the animals get enough food.
Ultimately, the airborne drone provides not only some groundbreaking and awe-inspiring footage for online observers, but a way for scientists to literally and figuratively watch over them for years to come.