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Drones Used For Whales, Dolphins Research In Hawaiian Waters

First Posted: Aug 01, 2016 03:30 AM EDT
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The populations of whales and dolphins have influences on the ocean food chain and could impact the entire ecosystem.
(Photo : David McNew/Getty Images)

The scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employed drones to monitor and study the whales and dolphins in Hawaiian waters. It is the first organization that used drones for whales and dolphins research.

The drone expedition is led by Erin Olsen from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He said that this is the first time that they have used (drones) as part of their research in the Pacific islands. He further said that this is also the first time it's been used to estimate group sizes and they wanted a way of calibrating the observers.

Phys Org stated that the team used a large ship to explore the coasts of the main Hawaiian Islands and a hexacopter drone to take a picture of the whales and dolphins. By using the drones, they can get the better picture of groups of whales because they are not bothered by the approaching ship or boat, according to Olsen.

With the drones, the researchers were able to accurately count the number of individual in the pod. These include the mothers and calves that sometimes stay underwater. They were able to get more accurate sizes of the individual whales too.

Elizabeth Josephson and Lisa Conger, other researchers and certified NOAA UAS pilots explained that studying whales and seals will not be the same for NEFSC marine animals. Conger said that she have spent many years looking at right whales, but using drones adds a dimension which will help them gain new information. She further said that they have learned a lot and plan to incorporate the hexacopter into upcoming field work as noted by Babw News.

Meanwhile, Olsen stated that there are more than 20 species of dolphins and whales around the Hawaiian archipelago. They also took samples and attached satellite tags to some whales to observe their movements. This could lead a way to understand the impact of climate change and warmer water temperatures.

Within their research, they had encountered killer whales. These are rarely seen in Hawaii. They also found one pod of orcas off the coast of Maui and another off the coasts of Big Island. Olsen explained that if the populations of whales and dolphins decrease, the ocean food chain becomes unbalanced and could impact the entire ecosystem.

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