Researchers say drones may be the saving grace of dolphins and whales

drone saving dolphins whales sperm whale
Amila Tennakoon
Their domain may be in the skies, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help those in the sea. A new application of drone technology seeks to aid the whale and dolphin populations of Hawai’i by creating a more accurate listing of the mammals’ pods. While the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in animal research is still in a relatively early stage, should this experiment prove successful, it could pave the way for further operations in the future.

“I believe that drones for conservation and research are akin to the invention of the microscope for cellular biology,” said Iain Kerr, the CEO of Ocean Alliance, a whale and ocean research organization. “If we truly want to understand what effects humanity is having on wildlife we need to study them in a non-invasive manner,” he added. “Today’s drones are the ultimate realization of non-invasive research.”

In the case of the dolphins and whales being studied in Hawai’i, a hexacopter drone is producing high quality images of the marine wildlife. The hexacopter drone is capable of carrying larger and better quality cameras than many others, and it’s also capable of withstanding rough ocean conditions like high winds and seas.

Already, the insights gleaned from drone-produced photographs have helped scientists “catalog whale groups more accurately,” the Christian Science Monitor reports. Because these counts are needed to determine how healthy the whale population really is, drones are already making invaluable contributions to research.

And if nothing else, the drone are giving researchers some unique whale footage. “Never before have I seen anything like this,” Barbara Bollard-Breen, a geospatial science professor at Auckland University, told The Independent. “There is no way we would see so much detail from a boat-based survey.”

So while this may be the first time scientists are using drone technology in their work, it seems almost certain that it won’t be the last.

Emerging Tech

Transplanted pig hearts show promise in baboon trials. Are humans next?

Researchers in Germany have successfully transplanted modified pig hearts into baboons. The results take us one step closer to ending organ transplant waiting lists for good. Here's why.

Built to take a beating and still perform, these are the best hiking watches

A proper hiking watch should track exercise metrics and act as a navigational co-pilot during any kind of hike. Ideally, it'll even have a built-in GPS system and sensors. Here are five of the best hiking watches.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Emerging Tech

We’re going to the Red Planet! All the past, present, and future missions to Mars

SpaceX isn't the only organization pining to visit the Red Planet. Here's a detailed list of all operational and planned missions to Mars, along with explanations of their objectives, spacecraft details, and mission proposals.
Emerging Tech

The best 3D printers of 2018

On the hunt for a new 3D printer? We've got your back. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned veteran, this list of the best 3D printers has what you're looking for.
Emerging Tech

Postmates’ to roll out Minion-like autonomous delivery robots in 2019

Postmates is about to employ a cute little robot to work alongside its human delivery personnel. Called Serve, the wheel-based bot can carry items weighing up to 50 pounds and has a range of 30 miles.
Emerging Tech

Rise of the Machines: Here’s how much robots and A.I. progressed in 2018

2018 has generated no shortage of news, and the worlds of A.I. and robotics are no exception. Here are our picks for the most exciting, game changing examples of both we saw this year.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Thrill-seekers will be able to pilot themselves in a giant drone as soon as 2019

Want to hitch a ride on a giant drone? The startup Lift Aircraft is gearing up to let paying customers fly its 18-rotor giant drones over assorted scenic landscapes across the U.S.
Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene therapy regulates hunger, staves off severe obesity in mice

Researchers from UC San Francisco have demonstrated how CRISPR gene editing can be used to prevent severe obesity in mice, without making a single edit to the mouse's genome. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe captures first image from within the atmosphere of the sun

NASA has shared the first image from inside the atmosphere of the sun taken by the Parker Solar Probe. The probe made the closest ever approach to a star, gathering data which scientists have been interpreting and released this week.
Emerging Tech

Say cheese: InSight lander posts a selfie from the surface of Mars

NASA's InSight mission to Mars has commemorated its arrival by posting a selfie. The selfie is a composite of 11 different images which were taken by one of its instruments, the Instrument Deployment Camera.