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Flying Drone Deems Endangered Orcas Healthy

NOAA tracked the group of 81 killer whales.

(Mirror Daily, United States) – There’s good news for the Southern Resident group of killer whales, as a flying drone deems endangered orcas healthy and on a potential uplift of their population. It’s been due for a while to see some positive feedback about marine life.

With dangers brought on by overfishing, climate change, or other disturbances that are man-made, it seems that some are still able to thrive.

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along with the Vancouver Aquarium have been tracking a small group of 81 orcas swimming in Canadian waters. They snapped exceptional photos of the endangered species, captivating their optimistic activity.

More accurately, they tracked the Southern Resident group of whales, in order to see how they fare among reports of dwindling food sources and unfortunate contamination. Their study was conducted for the purpose of understanding their change to environmental conditions.

The orcas are widely known as among the most contaminated marine mammals, which places them under severe worry.

The researchers used a hexacopter, a flying drone that is commonly used to keep a close eye on several species. For example, it has been used in the past to track the activity of birds, seals, penguins in Antarctica, or humpback whales in New England. It’s essentially the prime solution for observing places that are hard to reach while assuring minimal disruption.

Former methods included helicopter surveillance. It was costly, provided with poor quality due to the necessity of maintaining greater distances from the animals, and have been shown to cause disturbances. However, a small, 4 and half pounds drone could provide with better information.

For one, the hexacopter didn’t prove itself as a disrupting animal activity, flies between 90-100 feet from the animals, and provides with excellent quality pictures. The new technology has been certainly bringing in good results.

NOAA scientists used it to carefully keep track of the killer whales, observing their health, size, nutrition, and reproductive patterns. Since the 1990s, the Southern Resident group have lost 20% of their population. However, they seem to be recovering.

Just in the last 12 months, researchers noted that five baby orcas were born, and observed that several more of the group were pregnant. They witness touching family moments, such as two orcas bringing food for the mother and her calf, or a baby orca nursing. According to Lance Barrett-Lennard, from the Vancouver aquarium, they showed signs of exceptional bonding.

Killer whales have powerful abilities of communicating from the distance. Regardless, the Southern Resident group kept themselves close together, enough to touch as they swim. It’s part of how they “maintain social bonds”. And, apparently, their population is experiencing a baby boom, and a hopeful adaptation to changing conditions.

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