This June I was part of a team along with researchers and scientists. We carried out a whale study using drones. The team came from St Andrews University’s Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU), Tokyo University’s Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute (AORI) and the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS).
Their research is into Humpback whales body condition. By measuring the size, buoyancy as well as testing the blubber they can build a profile of the animals health. They asked me to assist in building a workflow, delivering training as well as operating a drone.
The benefit of the drone is being able to photograph them – whilst a temporary tag is attached (providing scale). Carrying out a whale study using drones is certainly far from easy – given the operating environment and the use of small boats to get access to the animals. We all learnt alot on this trip.
SMRU decided to carry out the field work in Gaspe in Quebec, Canada. There they would work alongside the MICS team who have a vast knowledge and database of the local whales.
The field work was a complex operation that required a multitude of variables (not least the weather) to align. I’m really pleased that we successfully captured full data sets multiple times. The key for this project was patience and perseverance.
The whole team were a delight to work with – a fantastic group of professionals and leaders in their fields. It was an incredible experience to work with them so closely with these amazing animals.
Christian Ramp and Alain Carpentier from MICS – These gents were our local knowledge, support and also our Captains for boat work. Their skills were the base upon which all of our endeavours were built.
Jo Kershaw and Lucia Martin Lopez from SMRU at St Andrew’s University – The backbone of our team – these two were keeping us all on target and ensured that all of the information was recorded and compiled for later analysis. They carried out biopsies, photography, logging and cruise reports.
Takashi Iwata from AORI at Tokyo University – Our resident tagging expert. His use of a long carbon fibre pole, bungees, suction cups and some exceedingly expensive sensors resulted in some incredible data from the Whales diving and feeding habits.