Application of UAS and analysis code to assess whale body condition and behaviors

Investigators: Dr. Leigh Torres, Dr. Jon Burnett, Todd Chandler, Dawn Barlow, Dr. Leila Lemos, Clara Bird, KC Bierlich

From our traditional boat-based horizontal perspective, cetacean behavioral observations are typically limited to when the animal is at the surface, and health assessment is constrained to photographs captured of this limited body view. Previously, achieving an aerial perspective has been restricted to brief helicopter- or plane-based observations that are costly, noisy and risky. The emergence of commercial small Unoccupied Aerial Systems (sUAS) has significantly reduced these constraints, and provide a stable, relatively quiet and inexpensive platform that enables replicate cetacean observations for prolonged periods with minimal disturbance. With the imminent proliferation of UAS cetacean studies comes the need for robust quantitative methods of video analysis.

The GEMM Lab has been pioneering the use of UAS technology to study marine mammal health and behavior. Since 2015 we have conducted UAS flights over gray whales in Oregon and blue whales in New Zealand to document behavior and assess body condition through photogrammetry. Through these efforts we have developed new analytical methods that allow robust quantification and comparability of metrics. We continue to employ these methods across projects, compare methodological approaches, and evaluate sources of error in photogrammetry methods. We also link these datasets with multiple other habitat and health measurements to get a better understanding of response and impacts due to disturbance events and environmental change. As new technologies emerge, we look for new applications to help us non-invasively study multiple marine megafauna species.

 

Check out the specific projects where we’re using UAS:

GRANITE: Gray whale Response to Ambient Noise Informed by Technology and Ecology

Ecology of blue whales in New Zealand

Gray whale foraging behavior and impacts on body condition

 

More information about this project:

Blogs

Media:

 

Publications:

Lemos, L., Burnett, J. D., Chandler, T. E., Sumich, J. L., and Torres, L. G. (2020). Intraand interannual variation in gray whale body condition on a foraging ground. Ecosphere, 11(4), e03094.

Torres L.G., Barlow D.R., Chandler T.E., Burnett J.D. (2020) Insight into the kinematics of blue whale surface foraging through drone observations and prey data. PeerJ 8:e8906.

Torres, L. G., S. Nieukirk, L. Lemos, and T. Chandler (2018). Drone up! Quantifying whale behavior from a new perspective improves observational capacity. Frontiers in Marine Science, 5, 319.

Burnett, J. D., L. Lemos, D. Barlow, M. G. Wing, T. Chandler, and L. G. Torres (2018). Estimating morphometric attributes of baleen whales with photogrammetry from small UASs: A case study with blue and gray whales. Marine Mammal Science. doi:10.1111/mms.12527

 

Photogrammetry analysis code:

MorphoMetriX

Source: Torres, W.I., and Bierlich, K.C (2020). MorphoMetriX: a photogrammetric measurement GUI for morphometric analysis of megafauna.. Journal of Open Source Software, 4(44), 1825. https://doi.org/10.21105/joss.01825

CollatriX

Source: Bird, C.N., and Bierlich, K.C. (2020). CollatriX: A GUI to collate MorphoMetriX outputs. Journal of Open Source Software, 5(51), 2328. https://doi:10.21105/joss.02328

Whale photogrammetry analysis code

Source: Appendix S2 from Burnett, J. D., L. Lemos, D. Barlow, M. G. Wing, T. Chandler, and L. G. Torres. Estimating morphometric attributes of baleen whales with photogrammetry from small UASs: A case study with blue and gray whales. Marine Mammal Science. https://doi.org/10.1111/mms.12527

Whale photogrammetry tutorial video

 

Project collaborators

Duke Univdersity Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab

 

 

From our traditional boat-based horizontal perspective, cetacean behavioral observations are typically limited to when the animal is at the surface, and health assessment is constrained to photographs captured of this limited body view.

Burnett, J.D., Lemos, L., Barlow, D.R., Wing, M.G., Chandler, T.E., Torres, L.G.. (In Revision). Estimating morphometric attributes on baleen whales using small UAS photogrammetry: A case study with blue and gray whales. Marine Mammal Science.

Leigh G. Torres, Jonathan D. Burnett, Sharon Nieukirk, Leila Lemos, Todd Chandler. Drone up! Quantifying whale behavior and body condition from a new perspective. Society of Marine Mammalogy biennial conference, Halifax, Canada, October 2017.