Investigators: Dr. Leigh Torres, Dr. Jon Burnett, Todd Chandler, Sharon Nieukirk, Dawn Barlow, Leila Lemos

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 unmanned 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 also link these datasets with multiple other habitat and health measurements to get a better understanding of response and impacts from environmental change. As new technology emerges we look for new applications to help us non-invasively study multiple marine megafauna species.

 

More information about this project:

Publications

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

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

 

Media

The scientists who study whale "defecation events"

Researcher Uses Drones To Learn How Whales Respond To Noise Pollution

Drone Footage Captures The Insane Moment A Gray Whale Takes A Giant Poop

New video shows how blue whales employ strategy before feeding

New technologies – and a dash of whale poop – help scientists monitor whale health

Studying whales in the least invasive way possible

 

Blog posts

New aerial footage captures blue whale lunge feeding

How Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS, aka “drones”) are being applied in conservation research

The best field season ever

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.