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Another Way To Use A Drone

Scientists are using drones to study how healthy whales are.

A whale's blow

When whales blow, it’s not a release of water. It’s more like a human exhaling in cold weather. (GPS, Flickr)

Drones can be pretty cool. They’re used for everything from flying for fun to delivering packages and to collect bacteria from whales. And collect bacteria from whales.

That last one probably made you pause, but it’s real! Scientists at Macquarie University, in Australia, use drones to harvest bacteria from the vapors that come from the blowholes of whales.

Drones And Blowholes

They’ve fitted drones with petri dishes and Go Pro cameras. When whales blow, the scientists fly the drones over and collect what they can in the dish.

It might sound complicated, but drones are the simplest solution we have for this at the moment. In the past, scientists used to get these bacteria samples from beached whales.

Doing that in some ways was easier, but beached whales are often sick. So, their bacteria samples are compromised.

Beached Whales And Boats

The other way is to get on a boat and get close enough to whales to collect blow samples. But, that is obviously pretty dangerous.

So, you’re probably thinking, why collect bacteria from whales in the first place?

Because studying bacteria can tell scientists a lot about whales. For one thing, bacteria from healthy whales allow the scientists to monitor health changes in whale populations.

And, collecting bacteria helps scientists learn more about whale biology. For example, the researchers found that the whales they studied had bacteria also found in other marine mammals, such as dolphins. But they also had bacteria normally found in fish.

Want to learn more about whales? You could read about how humpback whales learn songs in a way similar to how humans learn language. Or here’s a recent episode about how there’s evidence that whales hear using their skulls. 

Thank you to Vanessa Pirotta of Macquarie University for reviewing this episode’s script.

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