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Drone samples whale blow

Close but Quiet

A remotely controlled hexacopter hovers above a North Atlantic right whale in Cape Cod Bay. Researchers at WHOI and NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center are collaborating to collect samples of whale blow, the moist breath a whale sprays out of its blowhole when it exhales. Because drones are small and relatively quiet, they can hover close enough to a whale to collect a sample without disturbing it. By analyzing genetic material in the blow, researchers can begin to identify the individual members of the microbiome—the bacteria, viruses, and fungi—in a whale’s respiratory tract. Research approach of the whales using the hexacopter was authorized by NMFS permit #17355 and flights were authorized under an MOU between NOAA and the FAA. (Class G, #2016-ESA-3-NOAA). (Photo by Véronique LaCapra, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

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