Wednesday June 26, 2019

Scientists Use Drones to Detect Health of Migrating Whales in Australia

Drones allow scientists to collect samples from free-swimming whales to gather information in a safe and non-invasive way

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FILE - A humpback whale breaches off the coast at Clovelly Beach in Sydney, Australia, June 19, 2016. VOA

A water-proof drone is being used by Australian scientists to collect the highly-treasured nasal mucus of migrating whales. The snot is rich with fresh DNA, viruses and bacteria, and is collected by a drone that hovers over the blowholes of humpback whales as they embark on their epic annual journey along Australia’s east coast.

Whales, like all mammals need air, and come to the surface to breathe through a blowhole. Vanessa Pirotta, a marine biologist at Macquarie University, says that nasal mucus indicates the health of the whale.

“It is the juicy biological mixture that you see as a whale takes a breath as they surface from the water,” she said. “You often see that plume and it sounds like this like [sounds of sharp breaths] as a whale breathes because, after all, they are mammals like you and I and they have two nostrils, and it is the humpback whale that I am talking about. So as they take a breath it is a lot of lung bacteria coming out from their lungs, which we can collect to provide a snapshot of whale health.”

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Drones allow scientists to collect samples from free-swimming whales to gather information in a safe and non-invasive way. VOA

Australian researchers have attached a petri dish that is used in scientific tests to a drone which flies through the whale’s nasal mist.

“As a whale comes to take a breath — you can actually see it coming to the surface on really good weather days that is — the drone then lowers, the petri dish is then opened and the drone is flown through the densest part of the whale snot, collecting the sample in the petri dish. Now once this happens the lid is shut and the drone is flown back to the research vessel and we collect the sample to later process it in the laboratory,” said Pirotta.

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The research could help to solve one of the mysteries of another magnificent creature of the deep — the Southern right whale. Its numbers have recovered on Australia’s west coast since hunting was outlawed but its population on the eastern seaboard remains stubbornly low.

In the past studies into whale health had to rely on examining whales that were either killed or those whales that had been stranded on a beach. Drones allow scientists to collect samples from free-swimming whales to gather information in a safe and non-invasive way. (VOA)

Next Story

Environmental Activists Postpone Drone Protest at London Airport; Could Endanger Travelers’ Life

Heathrow Airport called the planned action "reckless", saying it "could endanger the lives of the traveling public and our colleagues"

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FILE - A photo shows a large screen at Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 in London, Britain, April 23, 2014. VOA

A group of British environmental activists have postponed their plan to ground flights at London’s Heathrow Airport. Extinction Rebellion had planned to use drones to paralyze Europe’s busiest airport intermittently in June and July to draw attention to the environmental harm that would be caused by the planned third runway.

The first of the protests was to take place Tuesday. “Extinction Rebellion will not be carrying out any actions at Heathrow Airport in June or July this year,” the group said in a statement. “The Heathrow Airport authorities will therefore not have to pause any summer flights.”

On Friday, British law enforcement authorities warned the activists that flying drones would result in life in prison for the participants. Heathrow Airport called the planned action “reckless”, saying it “could endanger the lives of the traveling public and our colleagues”.

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In December, thousands of flights were grounded at Gatwick Airport outside London after drones were spotted flying around it. Wikimedia Commons

But the group rejected claims that its actions could cause harm.  The group said it is not abandoning its plans for drone protests. On Sunday, it detailed its plans saying the lightweight drones would only be flown at head height within the 5 kilometer exclusion zone around Heathrow, forcing the airport to ground flights.   It did not disclose the dates for its protests.

ALSO READ: Washington Supplies 34 Aerial Drones to Southeast Asians through Security Assistance Funds

“There is nothing violent about flying drones when there are no flights in the air as it is perfectly safe,” the group said in a statement. “We are there first. The responsibility is with the airport authority to not initiate flights.”

Extinction Rebellion said its aim was to achieve “economic disruption” not to hurt people. In December, thousands of flights were grounded at Gatwick Airport outside London after drones were spotted flying around it. Extinction Rebellion says it was not responsible for that action. (VOA)