Drones. First thing that pops to mind perhaps is a new military gadget or something people play around with in their backyard without actually understanding its potential. In what seems to be a more and more common practice in wildlife research all over the world, NOAA researchers now used drones that helped them investigate the whale population in the Hawaiian Island.
In an interview for UAS Vision, Dr. Iain Kerr, the CEO of the Ocean Alliance, stated: "I believe that drones for conservation and research are akin to the invention of the microscope for cellular biology. They are opening up a whole new world for us to explore. They are affordable, quite, adaptable, reliable and scalable. I was recently hovering above a blue whale, the largest animal that has ever lived on this planet." He then added: "Through FPV I was just sitting 20 feet above this remarkable animal watching, its movement, its musculature, its respiration rate, its patterning and then a few minutes later I had, DNA, Microbiomes and who knows what else from its snot and it never even knew that I was there. If we truly want to understand what effects humanity is having on wildlife we need to study them in a non invasive manner (see the observer effect) – todays drones are the ultimate realization of non invasive research. I also believe we are only just scratching the surface of the potential for these machines."
Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) can (and already have) record events that scientists were never before able to witness. This summer, researchers used drones to count the whale and dolphin population, especially their offspring, near Hawaii. The reason why drones are so appropriate for this kind of research is that they don't interfere directly with the animals in any way - they don't confuse, disturb or provoke them while researching their way of life. "If we truly want to understand what effects humanity is having on wildlife we need to study them in a non-invasive manner," Kerr said. "Today's drones are the ultimate realization of non-invasive research."
Drone technology for researching wildlife is still improving, as the scientists insist on drones being practically invisible to the animals. This way, close-up photos (but also other data) of the animals in their natural environment, acting naturally, could be taken and offer an insight that was never available to humans before. Photographers from loud, noisy boats or even helicopters disturb the natural rhythm, influencing the animals' behaviour as well. Drones would be able to observe and report in detail with minimum impact.
Now imagine, if drones can do that, in how many other ways can they help the scientists and ecologists? The possibilites are endless.