Environment

Bowhead Whales spied with drone footage

Bowhead Whale

Bowhead Whales live in the Arctic, primarily off the coast of Canada, where some recent

Brandon Laforest, senior specialist Arctic species and ecosystems, with WWF-Canada enthused about the footage to International Business Times;

“It was amazing to see how the whales were completely undisturbed in the presence of the drone. You can watch them rolling, flipper slapping, tail breaching, socialising, all while being filmed by a drone at a safe distance,”

The Bowhead Whale is the second biggest mammal in the world, being surpassed only by the Blue Whale.

Sarah Fortune from the University of British Columbia spent four summers researching these elusive creatures. “The team was able to watch the whales and found that they spent the early morning feeding in deep water and then rested in shallow, coastal waters during the afternoon,” Fortune told cbc news.

She believes this is the first intensive effort to study bowhead whales with the use of an aerial drone, and says researchers now have a better understanding of how the whales forage and travel.

“When you’re on a boat, you can’t observe the entire body … it’s like the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

But the aerial footage, along with the sparkling clear northern waters, meant that researchers could watch the whales’ body language in real time. Fortune says the whales did not take any notice of the drones. “They paid it as much attention as a bird flying over. It was actually quite remarkable.”

Bill Koski, LGL senior environmental biologist:

“The details we can see in these drone photos, you cannot get that from airplanes. By getting down so close, and getting the resolution we can get with drones, it gives you a new perspective on the whales. The ability to observe whales for a longer period increases our knowledge of the whales at individual and population levels. As drone technology develops, the possibilities are huge. As battery length and range improves, unprecedented insights in whale behaviours will be possible.”

Brandon Laforest, WWF-Canada senior specialist, Arctic species Ecosystems:

“Drone studies represent a noninvasive and visually stunning way of furthering our understanding of the ecology of the species. By being able to identify individual whales, we can learn more about growth patterns and reproductive outputs, and monitor this population as climate change continues to alter the Arctic marine habitat.”

Sarah Fortune, PhD candidate at University of British Columbia:

“Much of what is known about large whale feeding behaviour has come from boat-based observations and archival tags that record an animal’s dive depth. However, these techniques provide a limited perspective of what the whale is actually doing underwater. We are excited to have the opportunity to combine aerial imagery using both the aerial drone and fine-scale tagging, to gain new insights into the feeding strategy of Eastern Canada-West Greenland bowhead whales.”

Brian Whiteside, VDOS Global LLC:

“VDOS Global is invested in using technology to have a positive impact on the environment and people around the world. We were truly excited to be a part of supporting WWF-Canada in such an important cause and are even happier to see the results and impact the data will have in supporting such critical research.”

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