Drones are becoming hugely valuable tools for adding to what we know about the creatures of the ocean. We have seen them put to use to watch over killer whales in Canada and track rarely seen shark-chases in all their gory glory. Now researchers have dispatched them to study the behavior of southern right whales and captured a very rare sight – a white calf splashing about off the coast of Western Australia.
Even fully grown southern right whales aren't so easy to spot. For the last 26 years researchers have been keeping an eye on their populations in the Great Australian Bight, an important breeding ground for the creatures. Though numbers have been steadily rising, experts say it will still be years before they are removed from the endangered list.
A very low percentage of southern right whale calves are born white and they don't stay that way for long, typically turning black within their first year. This leaves a very small window in which they can be spotted in this rare state, but armed with some cutting edge technologies researchers from Australia's Murdoch University have managed to do just that.
The team flies drones over the whales and their calves as a way of non-invasively measuring their size and body condition to learn more about the health and reproduction. This particular footage was captured off Augusta in Australia's south-west and shows a white calf swimming alongside a fully grown southern right.
In addition to drones, the researchers are also using suction cup tags that are placed onto the animals using long poles to measure fine-scale movements and acoustics. These remain in place for up to 24 hours, relaying data on the three-dimensional movements, vocal behavior and calf suckling rates.
You can check out the rare piece of footage and hear from the researchers involved in the project below.
Source: Murdoch University