When a critically endangered southern proper whale swam into a lake in Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) final month, it was an area drone photographer who was available to snag some spectacular footage of the majestic creature. And simply final week, a mom and newborn calf whales have been caught breaching on digital camera by a drone pilot off Jervis Bay.
Photographs and movies like these aren’t one thing that marine scientists are in a position to entry fairly often. That is why biologists on the NSW Nationwide Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) are completely gung-ho a few new analysis undertaking that rallies citizen scientists to seize headshots every time a proper whale is noticed near the shore.
Why headshots? As a result of proper whales are born with distinctive hardened pores and skin patterns on their heads known as callosities. Consider them like whale fingerprints; they might help to individually determine the whales.
Community of citizen scientists for drone whale monitoring
Proper now, the Proper Whale ID undertaking has about 20 volunteer drone pilots unfold throughout the NSW coast. These drone pilots are well-versed in each animal safety legal guidelines and civil aviation laws. A lot so, earlier than being recruited to this system, these volunteers sit for an examination and reply a sequence of questions concerning the habits of the whales they movie.
It’s value noting that the southeastern Australian inhabitants of the southern proper whale is very endangered, with solely 270 people left. Of those, solely 68 are breeding females. Usually, as few as 25 to 30 southern proper whales enter NSW waters yearly.
This 12 months, the Proper Whale ID undertaking has already recorded 5 grownup whales and two calves. And that, because the marine wildlife staff chief with the NPWS, Susan Crocetti, tells The Guardian, is a good starting:
What we’re hoping is we’d begin to detect areas the place southern proper whales are being seen repeatedly in order that we will put in place administration choices to guard these areas. We wish to assist southern proper whales get better as a result of they’re an vital a part of the entire system.
One of many early findings for the scientists is that the whales use NSW bays and estuaries as a type of “preschool” the place mother whales train their calves to breach and feed earlier than heading off to Antarctica for the summer time.
NSW Atmosphere Minister Matt Kean was notably happy to see the drone footage of the mother and calf whale basking and breaching within the heat, secure, shallow waters of the Jervis Bay. Calling the brand new drone whale monitoring program successful, Kean says:
The extra we find out about these valuable, majestic, and endangered animals the higher we will plan to guard them.
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