A 30 days expedition to study dolphins and whales involved drones monitoring from high in the air the activity of the animals.
The federal researchers that just returned from the trip were looking for clues to help them provide a better strategy to keep the marine mammal population healthy.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said that it is tough to gather information on the marine animals. One particular tricky place is the windward coast of the Hawaii.
To monitor that particular area the researchers had to use a large ship which would be able to resist the severe weather. From the nave, they launched a hexacopter drone which they used to photograph whales and dolphins.
The drone is a more efficient way to take pictures of the marine mammals because a boat would disturb their actions. They also managed to count the number of individuals found in a pod, and even to spot the individuals that sometimes stay underwater such as the calves.
Based on the number of calves, the researchers approximated a whale’s reproductive health. They also managed to make size estimations for male and female individuals.
This would be the first time NOAA uses drones in a Pacific research project. The devices were used a way to calibrate observations.
The Hawaiian Archipelago is the home for over 20 species of whales and dolphins. The scientists try to understand the mammals’ reaction to events such as El Nino and to investigate the potential impact of climate change and the change of water temperatures on the marine animals.
The expedition encountered three rare killer whales, which are almost never seen in the Pacific. One pod of orcas was spotted near Big Island and another on the coast of Maui. The researchers even identified the Big Island group later in their trip to another location.
The researchers used underwater acoustic technology to find a beaked whale, but they had no success. Even if the detector caught a call of the animal, the quest took several hours and ended up with no results.
Beaked whales live on extremely deep levels and come out to the surface only once an hour. They are one of the least studied species.
Dolphins and whales are an important part of the ecosystem, and it is important to protect their population in order to maintain the balance of the ocean food chain. A similar event happened with the false killer whales, which disappeared almost entirely leaving the waters deserted and exposed.
Image Source: Wikipedia