Researchers use drones to monitor killer whales as El Niño threatens food source

Written by admin on 14/11/2018 Categories: 老域名出售

Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Vancouver Aquarium are using drone technology to monitor the health of endangered killer whales as the onset of a warmer climate pattern may threaten their food sources.

They are using a hexacopter, an unmanned aerial vehicle operated remotely, to take high-resolution photos that can be used to determine the general well-being of the whale population.

Last month, the hexacopter collected aerial photogrammetry images of all 81 Southern Resident killer whales in San Juan Islands in Washington State. The images of neighboring Northern Resident killer whales around Vancouver Island were also collected.

Photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs.

Individual killer whales can be identified from the distinctive shape of their dorsal fin and saddle patch. Their individual growth and body condition from this year will be compared to previous photogrammetric assessments in 2008 and 2013 to see how the animals changed.

PHOTO GALLERY: Images recently collected by researchers using the hexacopter

Another image of I51 and her two offspring, this one taken in 2015. Comparing this image to the one taken the year before, one can see that the youngest calf (I144) has lost its gray mottling and grown considerably. It is now almost half the length of its mother and approaching the length of its older sibling (I129). These images show how scientists can track the growth of individual whales across time to monitor their health and condition. Taken under Fisheries and Oceans Canada research permit and Transport Canada flight authorization.

A photogrammetry image of the entire I16 matriline of Northern Resident killer whales taken in 2014. This image shows the size of whales at different ages. Note the small, gray calf in the middle (I144), only a few months old, swimming to the right of its mother (I51). To the left of the mother is the calf’s older sibling (I129). Credit: NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken under Fisheries and Oceans Canada research permit and Transport Canada flight authorization.

An adult female Southern Resident killer whale (L94) nursing her calf. Lactation is energetically costly for these whales, and future photogrammetry images of the calf’s growth and the mother’s condition will reveal if the mother is getting enough food to support both herself and the calf. Note the distinctive saddle patch on the mother. This allows scientists to recognize individual whales in photographs. Credit: NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken under NOAA Fisheries research permit and FAA flight authorization.

New mother L91 eating a salmon as her newborn calf looks on. This fish was caught and given to her by other members of the family group, showing that relatives help her as she cares for her calf. Credit: NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken under NOAA Fisheries research permit and FAA flight authorization.

Overhead image of the newest member of the Southern Resident killer whale population, L122, just days after being born to first-time mother L91. This image shows the small size of neonate calves and the close bond between mother and calf that will last a lifetime. Credit: NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken under NOAA Fisheries research permit and FAA flight authorization.

Photogrammetry image the A42 family group of Northern residents. Killer whales travel in their matrilineal family group their entire lives. Here the matriarch A42 is in the middle with her newest calf beneath her. Note A42’s distinctive saddle patch. This allows scientists to recognize individual whales from the photographs. Credit: NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken under Fisheries and Oceans Canada research permit and Transport Canada flight authorization.

Courtesy: NOAA

老域名出售

The 2008 and 2013 data was collected using helicopters.

Now, the researchers opt out  for a 4.5-pound hexacopter, with a roughly 30-inch wingspan and a special camera system. It is also small and quiet, allowing researchers to collect high-resolution images at a much lower altitude without disturbing the whales.

The imagery collected by the hexacopter last month suggests most whales are currently in what researchers call “robust condition” and that several appear to be pregnant. The images taken in 2008 and 2013 documented a decline in the overall body condition of the Southern Resident killer whales, as well as the apparent loss of calves by some pregnant females.

WATCH: Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard from the Vancouver Aquarium explains the benefits of using drone technology to monitor the local whale population.

Researchers also managed to take new photographs of the latest calf, L-122, just days after its birth, and its mother, L-91, just before and following birth. The team also captured vivid photographs of several calves nursing. The fate of the calves will shed light on the reproductive success rate of the whales.

The data collection becomes especially important as a warm El Niño climate pattern takes hold along the West Coast. NOAA says El Niño and warm ocean conditions have in the past led to declines in salmon, which Southern Resident killer whales rely on for survival.

Researchers will keep monitoring the whales to determine whether they face shortages of salmon prey at certain times of the year and prioritize salmon recovery actions.

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