From illegal whale hunters to over-exuberant tourist-watchers to human-made ocean noises, our largest sea mammals are under a lot of stress and, unlike humans, when whales stress out they don’t seek peace in the bottom of a Ben and Jerry’s container – they produce gallons of mucus full of stress hormones.
And here’s the Catch 22: In order to obtain a mucus sample that can be used to acquire stress-related medical data, whale researchers must steer motorboats near the animals – the noise of which causes them more stress. Indeed, the “doctor” can make the “patient” even worse by trying to get a diagnosis.
As in many scientific circles, the savior of the whale research community may emerge from a small but powerful package – a drone named Snot Bot.
Designed by students at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., Snot Bot is a copter drone that can quietly and unobtrusively fly into a whale’s spray of discharged water and mucus, easily obtaining the sample. Although the drone is only in the conceptual phase, the college team, with help from the Ocean Alliance, has tested the quadcopter in hopes of getting a permit from the FAA.
As explained to the Boston Globe, the team will have to play out their plan carefully so as not to incur the wrath of the FAA. “Right now, the rule for flying over a whale is 1,000 feet, because they assume you’re a person in an airplane. And the FAA gets angry if we fly a drone higher than 400 feet,” said Olin professor Andrew Bennett.
“Our ultimate dream is, somebody says something like, ‘When ships are passing by, it stresses whales during feeding,’” he added. “Then we can look at it and say the stress level did go up or, actually, no, the whale didn’t seem to care.”
Meanwhile, in American Samoa, Stanford aeronautics graduate student Ved Chirayath leads the charge in marine-biological drone use after creating the first autonomous flying drone to map and measure shallow-water reefs.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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