The Ocean Alliance of Gloucester and Olin College of Needham have teamed up on a drone-based tool for taking vital signs from whales without shooting them with darts from loud motorboats.
The alliance hopes to send ships out to areas popular with whales and fly the drones through the blow, or "snot" when a whale exhales. The drones are equipped with collectors to take samples of the stuff, which it turns out contains lung material and other substances that researchers can use to determine whale health. The alliance is using Kickstarter to raise the $225,000 cost of missions to the seas off Argentina, Mexico and Alaska:
Having a lung lining sample is crucial. With it we can see virus and bacteria loads, analyze DNA, and look for environmental toxins that have been absorbed into the whale’s system. Perhaps most importantly, we can test for levels of hormones, which gives us information on the reproductive cycles and stress levels of these creatures as they are increasingly impacted by human activity in their natural habitats.
In the “BS” era of data collection (Before Snotbot), the standard way of getting a data sample of a whale (living outside captivity) involved chasing an extremely acoustically sensitive mammal with a loud motorboat and subsequently shooting it with a sampling dart from a crossbow.
Imagine if everything your doctor knew about your health came from chasing you around the room with a large needle while blowing an air-horn.The chart would say something like, “elevated stress levels, prone to shrieking.” It's inaccurate. This is what we believe is going on with some of the current whale data due to the invasive nature of previous sampling methods, and with Snotbot we mean to correct it with a clearer picture of whales that are undisturbed.