Whale Conservationists Seek Backers on Kickstarter for Snot-Harvesting Drone
Nidhi Subbaraman - Beta Boston
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July 23, 2015

If the drones fly 10 feet overhead, they can collect samples without stressing out the whales, the group claims. (Ocean Alliance.)

The robots may be coming for our jobs, but first they will fly solo into a geyser of warm whale snot. For science.

These remote-controlled “snot bots” are designed by students at the Olin College of Engineering, and backed by conservationists and whale biologists at the Gloucester research nonprofit Ocean Alliance. This week, the group launched a crowdfunding campaign (see Kickstarter video below) to raise money for robot-assisted whale studies in three parts of the world.

“The whole idea of these drones is that we can use them to collect data without the whales even knowing,” said Iain Keller, the chief executive of Ocean Alliance.

Icky or not, the whale “blow” that’s expelled when an animal surfaces to take in a lungful of air, is a goldmine for biologists studying the health of the mammals. From the mixture of mucus, water, and tissue particles researchers can measure stress hormones, pregnancy hormones, detect viruses, gather material for DNA analysis, and more.

Considering the current practice involves riding alongside surfacing animals in boats, and dangling a 10-foot pole above their heads, the idea is that a hovering robot silently following a whale is more efficient.

Read the rest at Beta Boston

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