View from above aids research

Drone view.

Drones are proving to be a game changer for whale researchers who can now view them from above.“Drones permit us to measure the length of the whales and monitor the way they interact with each other and how they respond to others in the water,“ University of the Sunshine Coast tourism research Dr Vikki Schaffer said.

“We have wondered why dolphins join the whales at feeding time and we suspect that it is because milk is being dispersed into the water. This could actually help us confirm what is happening.”

Previously, scientists have monitored whales from shore or on boats using binoculars while maintaining the required approach zone of 100 to 300 metres. With special permission from the Commonwealth Government research drones can take images to collect more accurate information.

Sunreef Mooloolaba owner Dan Hart said his team reserve spots for USC researchers on their Swim With the Whales Experience so they could get out to see the whales.

USC Honours student Emily Gregory is using the footage to measure the length and width of the whales to capture data on population health, supervised by Dr Kylie Scales, Dr Javier Leon and Dr Schaffer.

“The health of the individual is so important to the population dynamic, reproduction and overall survival. Their capacity to store energy reserves during annual migration is critical,” Emily said.

“It’s not common knowledge, but whales play a huge role in cleaning our air.

“Whale poo cycles important ocean nutrients like nitrogen and iron from the depths to the surface waters. These nutrients sustain plankton populations which, in turn, play an important role in extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It’s all linked.”

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