SUMMARY: Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are useful tools to help maritime researchers track and monitor marine wildlife. Drones and SmartBalloons provide scientists with a cost effective aerial resource to gain new data about their research subjects.
PROBLEM: The traditional research methods for studying marine wildlife typically involve monitoring the subjects from at or below the surface of the water. The high cost of aviation has never made it a feasible solution for marine biology studies. Additionally, the complex nature of shipboard aviation operations makes it an extremely difficult feat. In fact, a 2003 study of wildlife biologists listed light aircraft crashes as the top killer of field scientists.
SOLUTION: The substantial price drop of consumer drones has now placed them within reach of university researchers. Scientists now have a cost-efficient, and safe, tool to gather data previously unavailable. For 37 years, Michael Moore of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has researched large baleen whales like humpback and right whales. Moore has invented a unique method for collecting whale blow that involves a hexacopter drone hovering six to ten feet over a submerged whale and waiting for the animal to surface and exhale. A specialized plate on top of the drone collects the condensed vapor specimen for further analysis.