Ocean Alliance Taps DJI For “Snotbot” Project, Drones Studying Whales

Science / Tech
DJI Snotbot Whales FI

Whales are majestic creatures, and some of the largest animals in the world. Scientists have been observing and studying these animals for years, though many of the methods used could be best described as intrusive to the animals and their habitat. The Ocean Alliance has recently started working with DJI on a project called “Snotbot,” which allows the scientists to collect information from whales in a more humane and less obtrusive way.

Aside from being a fantastic name for something, Snotbot is a project using specially equipped DJI drones — including the DJI Inspire 1. Ocean Alliance researchers used these drones to fly 80 missions studying blue, grey and humpback whales in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez under a research permit from the University of La Paz. The drone is equipped with several means of collecting samples of the fluid released by the exhaled breath of whales when they surface.

This fluid contains all kinds of helpful information, allowing scientists to test the whale’s DNA, check for viruses or bacteria, measure hormone levels, or detect toxins in the whale’s system. The collection of this sample does not affect the whale in any way, and doesn’t stress the animal, as previous methods involving chasing the animals with speedboats and stinging them with research darts would.

Paul Pan, DJI’s senior project manager, is happy to see the company’s technology put to good use:

DJI is thrilled that our drones are helping benefit these majestic creatures by making it easier for scientists to study and protect them. 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.

Dr. Iain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance was equally excited about the possibilities using drones for research:

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. 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.

You can check out DJI’s video below, to see how these scientists are using drones for more than just recreation.

What do you think about the Snotbot project? What are some other fields where drones might be useful for research? Tell us what you think in the comment section below or on Google+, Facebook, or Twitter.

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