Ocean Alliance: SnotBot, Drones for Whale Research

SnotBot is a program that uses drones to study whales used by Ocean Alliance Inc. SnotBot can collect a wide variety of independently valuable data streams including biological samples, non-invasively, efficiently, and affordably. It will empower research/conservation stakeholders globally to collect more and better data: crucial if we are to save whales and our oceans.

This project is to fund a Drones for Whale Research ‘SnotBot’ expedition to South-East Alaska over the summer of 2017.  The primary objective will be to collect respiratory samples from humpback whales using drones. The secondary objective will be to collect other forms of data, such as bio-acoustics, photo-ID, photogrammetry, behavioral data etc. (again, using drones). The third objective will be to better develop the efficacy and efficiency of our protocols and methodologies for collecting these data.

Post expedition, we will have two primary objectives. 1) To work with our scientific partners to analyze the data collected. 2) Leverage any media opportunities for science communication: to highlight the plight of whales in our oceans today and explain how the general public can help. We will also produce an in-depth document speaking to our experience with drones for whale research, with the objective of encouraging and facilitating the global/widespread adoption of these tools which could play such a crucial role in protecting whales.

Our goal is to collect 50 respiratory samples, 50 images for photogrammetry, 100 images for photo-ID, and 3 hours of footage for behavior/bio-kinetics analysis. We will write 10 stories/blogs on the expedition for our website/social media, create a video on the expedition with a strong public awareness component and encourage/take advantage of any press opportunities which arise. The analysis of the samples and the creation/publication of our ‘Drones for Whale Research paper will be explicitly measurable results of the program.

Ocean Alliance are global leaders in the utilization of drones in whale research/conservation, particularly regarding the collection of respiratory samples from whales. We have flown over 400 flights and collected 143 respiratory samples from four species of whale. To our knowledge, this is considerably more than any other research team worldwide.

We have been studying whale biology for almost 50 years and believe that this research program could be the most important program we have ever run: a statement which is not said lightly considering our achievements to date. There are three primary areas in which we believe this program will significantly benefit ocean conservation.

1) The hard data from the expedition will help us learn more about the targeted population of whales: not just now but well into the future.

2) Our science communication/public awareness activities will, we predict, reach thousands if not millions of people globally, educating them on the plight of whales and what they can do to help protect them.

3) Finally, and most importantly, by developing this tool and demonstrating its effectiveness widely through multiple online/academic portals, we are actively facilitating and accelerating the adoption of what, we believe, will prove to be one of the most important tools in the history of marine mammal science and conservation. The price point at which we are doing this means that non-profits around the world will be able to use these tools to collect more and better data


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