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Despite recovery of many whales’ populations in the world, others are still facing a long list of threats including access to preys, noise and chemical pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, and climate change which are without surprise intensifying in certain regions.

A better understanding of these populations and studying their threats has always been hard and expensive, but to assure a more efficient protection of endangered species, new approaches need to be developed and optimized in order to turn the tide and assure their survival.

Example of a program used for body measurements. Humpback whale photography taken off the East coast of the USA in the Gulf of Maine

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) allow scientists to observe whales from new perspectives and therefore have given them access to new data and information from a noninvasive and low-cost technique. Basically, drones are used to get photos/videos of whales or to collect samples. Visual content can thus be used to measure whales, estimate their weight, and their body condition, identify individuals in a well-monitored population and observe whales regarding their foraging, reproductive, and social behaviours. 

DNA sampling

The main type of sample that can be collected by drones nowadays are whale snots. These small droplets breathed out of the whale’s blowhole contain valuable biological information, including pregnancy and stress hormones, microbiomes and DNA. Have a look at this video from Ocean Alliance – Whale Research & Conservation. They kindly give us their protocols and we will reproduce their methods during our Glacialis expedition.

One other objectives of the Glacialis Expedition will be to obtain as many videos of whales by drone as possible. Collaborators around the world will then benefit from those visual content and data obtained for their own research purpose. Therefore, scientists, conservation and governmental organizations will get a better understanding of the complex life and health of whales and help them define and accomplish more specific conservation actions. 

Thanks to M.Sc. Alexandre Bernier-Graveline that wrote this article. He is our new Scientific Advisor & Logistic Coordinator.