Scientists from the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, working with a team from the Vancouver Aquarium, have for the first time used drones to photograph killer whales—and the results are stunning.
The remote-controlled hexacopter, mounted with a high-resolution camera, flew over the waters of Canada’s western province of British Columbia in August. The whales were identified as Northern Resident killer whales, a population at risk under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (pdf).
The Northern Resident killer whales depend on salmon for food, mainly Chinook salmon. Climate change and overfishing has depleted (pdf) the area’s Chinook salmon supply in recent years and the whales have been left to survive on less.
NOAA scientists determined that the only way to effectively monitor the weight of individual whales was from the air. Soaring above the mammals at a high-altitude, drones appear to be the only devices that could deliver such high-quality, vivid imagery.