Science News

NOAA Drones Monitor Whales

Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are using drones to monitor gray whales off the California coast. Flying 40 m above the ocean, the hexacopter’s camera snaps photos of the large mammals as they migrate between their calving grounds off Mexico to their summer feeding areas in the Arctic.

The whales don’t feed during most of their months-long migration, and female cows draw on their blubber reserves—in part a result of feeding conditions in the Arctic the previous summer—to sustain themselves and their calves. Now, the drones allow scientists to study the whales’ sizes and compare between animals and over time. The new images could provide clues to how environmental conditions in the Arctic one year affect how many calves are born the next, researchers say.

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