Drones and Sir Patrick Stewart help save whales and oceans
Tens of thousands of whales are killed or injured every year as a direct or indirect result of human activities. The health of ocean ecosystems is tied directly to the health of whales. If we continue to lose whales, the results will be disastrous not just for the oceans, but for our entire planet.
We need better technology to understand and document our impact on whales and their habitat. And we need tools that don’t further harm or harass them. And, most importantly, we need YOUR help.
Healthy oceans are critical to humanity’s survival. By supporting Snotbot, you are leaving a legacy for future generations and ultimately helping to preserve Planet Ocean.
Snotbots are custom-built drones created in partnership between Ocean Alliance and Olin College of Engineering. They hover in the air above a surfacing whale and collect the blow (or snot) exhaled from its lungs. Snotbot then returns that sample back to researchers a significant distance away.
Here is an extended interview with Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr and Sir Patrick Stewart about Snotbot. With your help we can get it into the field where it matters!
Having a lung lining sample is crucial. With it we can see virus and bacteria loads, analyze DNA, and look for environmental toxins that have been absorbed into the whale’s system. Perhaps most importantly, we can test for levels of hormones, which gives us information on the reproductive cycles and stress levels of these creatures as they are increasingly impacted by human activity in their natural habitats.
By using Snotbots, the whale never knows the data is being collected. The custom-built drones fly well above the surface of the water and into the blow, the subjects are never touched or approached closely.
Ideally, whale researchers should be positioned about half a mile away from their subjects, giving the whales plenty of room to go about their business. Dozens of technological hurdles had to be overcome in order to make the drones capable of collecting a physical sample at this distance in an uncontrolled marine environment.
- We had to get them waterproof (and snotproof) yet still able to fly
- They had to be able receive signals and complete the mission with a diverse array of on-board sensors
- Collection systems were developed to produce a scientifically usable sample.
- We built a floating testing rig complete with 3D printed scientifically accurate whale blowholes called Snotshot for realistic at-sea testing.
We crashed a lot of drones in the process (some even on purpose) but wound up with a system we can count on to give us the vital data we need.