Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have developed a special drone that comes close to whales to take high-resolution photos and collect "on the fly" samples of the their breath.

Images and liquid are then analyzed in the laboratory, also to make sure that there are no respiratory infections, that is the main health problem of cetaceans.

The hexacopter and whales. The hexacopter, or a drone with six rotors, is commanded by a researcher located on a boat not far from where the whales are stationed. The first tests took place in June at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, where the WHOI and NOAA team photographed 36 specimens from 40 meters high, then descended up to 3 meters near the blowhole, to collect precisely breath samples.

Image The drone ready for takeoff. | Michael Moore, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Acquired under National Marine Fisheries Servic

New frontiers. This modality of intervention, intelligent and respectful of the animal, has been tested for now only in the Marine Sanctuary of Stellwagen Bank, a place exposed to a certain extent to the traffic of ships and pollution. In the coming winter the researchers plan to move to Antarctica, to compare the health conditions of the local cetaceans with those of the Stellwagen Bank, in front of the coasts of Massachusetts.