Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Drone of Orcas

Drones are just about everywhere, and I don't mean just the drone of me snoring.
Last August, researchers from the Vancouver Aquarium and NOAA used a custom-built hexacopter to photograph and track the local resident orca pods. Researches were trying to determine how low salmon stocks affect the health of the local resident orcas. The locals, which are considered endangered, stick to diet of salmon, while transient orcas will go after seals, dolphins or whatever's around, and so the locals' health depend on the health of the salmon stocks. If salmon stocks are low, the locals will go hungry. It's hard to tell if an orca is getting thin with only a side view from a boat as an orca will only appear skinny from the side once it is serverly malnourished. But from above, it is much easier to get a sense of an orca's health, particularly whether or not it is getting enough to eat as its girth is easier to make out from above.
Using their drone and looking down from above, the researchers followed some of the northern resident orcas to get a sense of their health. The good news is that because of a large chinook run, most of the northern residents looked robust and well-fed; the bad news was that some of the orcas were not doing as well and two of them disappeared and were presumed to have died during the course of the study.
You can read the whole story here (and look at some cool pictures as well), and you can also check out the embedded video below:

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