A tiny, flying drone has captured stunning video of a population of killer whales socializing, chasing prey and swimming with dolphins off the coast of Canada.
The gorgeous footage from the robotic flyer can reveal which whales are plump, scrawny or sporting a baby bump. The video imagery is so detailed that scientists can even identify some individual whales based on their scars.
The drone, called Mobly, is helping scientists understand how salmon stocks affect the health of killer whales, and the footage could even help fisheries manage their stocks to help the endangered whale populations thrive.
The salmon-eating southern and northern resident killer whales living off the coast of Vancouver, B.C., are considered endangered and threatened, respectively.
Manned helicopters provide a top view of weight changes, but are expensive and noisy, as they need to fly so high to avoid disturbing the whales.
To solve those problems, Barrett-Lennard and his colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration built a specially designed hexacopter drone to fly over the whales and take photos as they surfaced, chased prey and played in the waters off Vancouver Island in Canada. The team released the drone in August and collected two weeks of footage.
The detailed imagery was so good that the team could even see some of the scars and scratches that distinguish individual whales from one another. The footage also revealed the pear-shaped bodies of pregnant whales, as well as the leaner cross-sections of skinnier whales.
Source: Live Science