Wild whales and dolphins are some of the most charismatic animals on Earth, but their lack of visibility from land can limit their popularity
with humans. We still look for better views, though, using everything from whale-watching boats
to cetacean spy satellites
. And thanks to the recent boom in aerial drones
, one of the best vantage points to see whales is increasingly just a few hundred feet overhead.
In January, for instance, we saw novel drone footage of wild orcas playing with kayakers
in Norway. And now another drone video goes even further, offering a bird's-eye view of not just one, but three kinds of marine mammals cavorting across the Pacific Ocean. Filmed by Dave Anderson of Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Safari
in Southern California, it includes a stampeding "megapod" of common dolphins, a migrating trio of gray whales and a newborn humpback whale with its mother.
"This is the most beautiful and compelling five minute video I have ever put together," Anderson writes on YouTube, where the video has quickly amassed more than 2.6 million views. "I learned so much about these whales and dolphins from this drone footage that it feels like I have entered a new dimension! I have not been this excited about a new technology since we built our underwater viewing pods on our whale watching boat. Drones are going to change how we view the animal world."
Anderson filmed the common dolphins off Dana Point, Calif., the gray whales near San Clemente, Calif., and the humpbacks in Maui, Hawaii. He launched and caught the quadcopter drone from a small inflatable boat, risking both injury to himself and loss of the drone. In fact, the drone fell into frigid waters off Dana Point after recording the dolphins, forcing Anderson to dive in and retrieve it.
"I had my hat and glasses on, I was fully clothed with long-johns on to keep warm and my cell phone and wallet in my pocket," he explains on YouTube. "It was a stupid move, but the copter started sinking so fast it was my only hope to get the amazing footage I had just shot."
Anderson has since added floats to his drone, but he still worries every time he launches the $1,700 rig over water. "My wife says no more drones if I lose this one," he writes. "But she said that before I lost the other one. Now that she's seen what it can do, I think she's just as hooked as I am."
As great as this footage is, however, Anderson warns amateurs not to imitate it. He has 20 years of experience as a whale-watch captain, he notes, allowing him to be sure he wasn't breaking laws. "Please only attempt this if you are extremely familiar with whale behavior as it is illegal to do anything that causes the whales to change their normal behavior ... and the authorities do watch YouTube."
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