March 12, 2019
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Collecting Whale Snot



Collecting whale snot you ask? Historically to collect biological information so that a snapshot of a whales health could be determined required invasive methods to be adopted often putting researches dangerously close to the whale not to mention at the same time causing stress to the whale being sampled. The use of drones has been ground breaking in such that the drone can be operated remotely keeping researches safe and in a manner that is non invasive to the whales. When the whale decides to come to the surface and exhale, it blows into the atmosphere an incredible amount of biological mucus from deep inside its lungs. This exhale condensate can be collected via a drone fitted with a series of six to eight petri dishes and sent to the laboratory to check aspects of the whales health including viruses, hormone levels and DNA. This gives researches an unprecedented window into the health of our Humpback whale population as it commits to its annual migration up and down the humpback highway of eastern Australia.


This research is a collaboration between Humpbacks and High RisesGriffith University and Hover UAV which is now into its third season. At the helm is Dr Jan-Olaf Meynecke of  Griffith University who is passionate about the ocean and all things marine. The respected Gold Coast based marine biologist is co-founder of Humpbacks & High-rises—a not for profit research organisation dedicated to urban marine mammal research and protection. Dr Meynecke was very quick to realise the potential that unmanned aerial systems could have on research in particular on whale research. So as far back as 2013-2014 he set off on a pilot program utilising unmanned aerial systems to capture the biological treasure trove of information contained in whales exhale condensate.

One of the driving foundations for Hover UAVs existence is to utilise drones for good and when the opportunity arose to work with Dr Meynecke collecting whale snot the opportunity could not have been missed. With exceptional experience in utilising drones in marine environments and pioneering large scale programs such as drone shark surveillance in NSW, Hover UAV set about working with Dr Meynecke to make large in roads into developing sustainable methods of best practice to capture  reliable samples of large enough quantity that it can be analysed at the Griffith University laboratories. Also joining the team this season is Andrew Colefax a marine scientist with a wealth of knowledge not only on the marine environment but he is also an expert on drone technology.

Dr. Meynecke. Landline 2014


As drone technology evolves and continually improves we will see this type of research being conducted increasingly by drones. The drones of today most certainly are not the drones of tomorrow considering the rate of technological advancement currently being undertaken. With improved flight times due to advancements in battery technology, new designs of drones that fly longer or are more efficient and a myriad of different sensors including thermal and hyper spectral, it is most certainly an exciting time to be researching one of the largest of our marine mammal species.

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