It's not just domestic plastic waste that's threatening marine life across the globe, discarded fishing gear and other marine debris can be just as deadly. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been using small boats full of specialists to help free entangled whales at a Hawaiian sanctuary, but it's dangerous work for the trained teams. DJI has joined forces with NOAA and Oceans Unmanned to explore safer whale rescue – using drones.

NOAA teams and local volunteers have been working together for years to liberate whales from the life-threatening detritus at NOAA's Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary while the graceful behemoths are in the water, but getting up close to them has proven dangerous for the rescuers.

"Cutting free a 45-foot, 40-ton free swimming animal is not an easy task; it can be dangerous," confirmed NOAA's Ed Lyman. Last year, one volunteer was even killed after being struck by a whale.

It's also time consuming. "In the past, we had to get close to the whales at least three times," said former NOAA sanctuary manager Matt Pickard, founder of non-profit Oceans Unmanned. "Once to figure out where the animal was entangled, once to cut them free, and once to make sure the job was done right and nothing was left behind."

A recently-launched program aims to reduce that to just one step by providing aerial support for the rescue missions using remote controlled drones packing powerful cameras. "It makes the entire process much safer for both the humans and the whales," he continued.

DJI joined Oceans Unmanned on the water to see exactly how its donated Phantom 4 Pro drones were being used in the battle to cut entangled whales free from marine debris, as you can see in the video below.

Source: DJI

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