Modified drones are keeping an eye on the world’s wildlife

A growing group of scientists are using drones for wildlife conservation and research.

A growing group of scientists are using drones for wildlife conservation and research. (Unmanned Research Aircraft Facility/uraf.org)

For more than a year, Michael Moore has been trying to capture the breath of whales.

It’s an audacious idea, but Moore has help. A marine biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, he’s rigged a fleet of small unmanned aerial vehicles—UAVs, or drones—with samplers to catch whales’ exhalations from above. The aim is to get a good enough sample to analyze exhaled microbes and gain a better understanding of the cetaceans’ health.

Of course, stores don’t typically sell “whale breath-catching drones” off the shelf. Moore’s team has to make a number of adjustments to adapt his UAVs for the task at hand: setting them to calibrate on flat land so their gyros aren’t affected by the rocking boat, and moving the sample-catching petri dish from the bottom of the drone to the top.

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