Whales are elusive creatures — and that just makes us want to learn more about them. For some researchers, this means being as noninvasive as possible, including those at Murdoch University who used drones to capture this footage of southern right whales, including a white whale calf.
The drone footage is helpful in determining the overall health of the whales. "Drones are allowing us to non-invasively measure the size and body condition of free living southern right whales, which in turn allows us to investigate important aspects of their health and reproduction, including the growth rate of calves in relation to the condition of their mothers," said Dr. Fredrik Christiansen, part of a research project with professor Peter T. Madsen from Aarhus University in Denmark. The drones also allow researchers to identify and track whales based on their callosities.
In addition to drones, researchers are using special suction cup tags that record the whales' acoustic environment, sending back 800 samples per second. "The [tag] measures and records the depth, pitch and roll of swimming behavior in three-dimensions of the tagged animal. The tag also records sound, which is sufficient for measuring sounds made by boats and those heard by the whales," said Lars Bejder, a professor also working on the project. The tags are programmed to release themselves from the whales at a set time, and researchers gather up the tags via a VHF transmitter.
Both methods should provide new insights into the health and behaviors of the southern white whale while also providing us with simply majestic glimpses into the lives of these mysterious creatures.