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If you were a humpback whale, chances are that you wouldn’t like having someone following along above you in a motorboat, holding a petri dish out on a pole over your blowhole. That’s traditionally how researchers ascertain what types of bacteria are normally present in a whale’s exhaled breath, though. Now, scientists have successfully utilized a less intrusive method of gathering what’s known as the “respiratory microbiome” – they’ve used a drone.

“We see evidence of respiratory illnesses frequently in stranded and deceased animals,” says study leader Amy Apprill, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “Until now, little has been known about the normal respiratory microbiome of healthy whales.”

As mentioned, previous efforts at gathering blasts of exhaled whale breath (known as “blow”) have involved following the animals in motorboats. While this method does work, there’s the possibility that it stresses the whales, causing them to deviate from their regular behaviour. It was with this in mind that the Woods Hole team – working with colleagues from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); SR3 Sealife Response, Rehabilitation and Research; and the Vancouver Aquarium – turned to a remotely-piloted hexacopter drone.

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Carrying a sterilized petri dish on top, the drone was flown directly into the blow of numerous healthy humpback whales

Carrying a sterilized petri dish on top, the aircraft was flown directly into the blow of numerous healthy humpback whales. Altogether, samples were collected from 17 whales off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and nine whales near Vancouver Island, Canada. According to the scientists, the whales didn’t seem to notice that the drone was even there. Continue reading about drone uses with whales.

Source: New Atlas