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Vancouver Aquarium uses drone to track killer whales in the wild

By Igor I. Solar     Oct 10, 2014 in Science
Vancouver - Researchers from the Vancouver Aquarium, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, used a drone to observe killer whales (Orcas). It is the first time an unmanned aerial vehicle tracked wild marine mammals.
Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, Vancouver Aquarium's senior marine mammal scientist, collaborated with U.S. researchers Dr. John Durban and Dr. Holly Fearnbach from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), San Diego, CA, to follow and observe the behaviour and condition of pods of killer whales in the wild using an unmanned aerial vehicle.
The apparatus used is a marine hexacopter owned by NOAA, model APH-22, built by the aerial photography company “Aerial Imaging Solutions” of Winkler, Manitoba. The application of the drone to monitor killer whales off the coast of British Columbia was authorized by Fisheries and Oceans Canada under a Marine Mammal Research License and the corresponding Animal Care Permit.
The team of scientists also assessed the impact of the hexacopter on the animals and determined that the presence of the drone was not noticed by the whales and caused no reaction.
Researchers captured about 30,000 photographs during 60 flights conducted in August 2014 in the Johnstone Strait in British Columbia. The APH-22 hexacopter obtained images of 77 northern resident killer whales and five transient killer whales. The analysis of the images will allow the scientists to assess the status of the whales including health condition and pregnancies.
This information will assist wildlife managers in protecting the northern resident killer whale population, as well as the endangered southern resident population. The observations conducted using the drone will add to the knowledge of B.C. killer whales, which the Vancouver Aquarium has been researching for more than 40 years, the longest-running study of marine animals on the planet.
More about Vancouver aquarium, Hexacopter Drone, Killer whales, Orcinus orca, Johnstone Strait
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