WHALE-WATCHING: THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE
The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation has just celebrated its 25th year of existence. It was formed in 1991. The omnivorous leviathan Amazonus giganticus emerged in 1994 and the invasive species Megacorpus googleii not until 1998. A full 10 years later the first garbled recordings of Sarahpalinus illogicus were made. And all the while, a watchful eye was being kept on the cetaceans of the Bahamas – researching, counting, measuring, identifying, recording, poop-scooping, analysing samples, tagging, comparing, protecting and conserving.
As the years passed, so the science and technology evolved and became more sophisticated. Researching became at the same time easier, yet more complex as the organisation’s remit expanded to accommodate the vast increase in data collection now made possible by refined techniques. Here are two very recent examples – 25th anniversary projects, in fact – with thanks to Charlotte, Diane, their team and their colleagues in linked organisations.
TAGGING BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES
Last month, a tagging project started, involving suction cups being attached to the backs of BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES. The purpose of the research is to compare the foraging efficiency of the whales in Abaco waters with those of Andros, the second part of the project. I imagine this will provide valuable insights into the whale movements and behaviours in each location as well as such issues as the comparative availability of the food supply, and other factors that may affect expected foraging patterns.
The tag is moved towards an adult male. Note the aerial (antenna?) at the back of it
Planting the tag on the whale’s back
The tag in place
The tag is tracked for 18 hours, after which it is retrieved and the recordings can then be analysed back at BMMRO HQ in Sandy Point. So far, an adult male, a young male and two adult females have been tagged. Each female had a calf, but these were not tagged.
Female beaked whale with her calf
AERIAL PHOTOGRAMMETRY USING A HEXACOPTER
Drone technology is rapidly expanding as new uses for them are devised. BMMRO in conjunction with NOAA have used a sophisticated HEXACOPTER to take the first PHOTOGRAMMETRY images of Blainville’s beaked whales. These aerial photographs were taken from approximately 100ft altitude. But note: not just anyone with a $50 drone can do this: the project required flight clearance from the Bahamas Department of Civil Aviation and a permit for research on marine mammals granted by the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources.
Blainville’s beaked whale photogrammetry image – adult male (note ‘erupted’ teeth)
Blainville’s beaked whale photogrammetry image – female and calf
STOP PRESS Two additional images from the latest batch
Photogrammetry: the science of making measurements from photographs. Applications include satellite tracking of the relative positioning and alterations in all Earth environments (e.g. tectonic motions etc), research on the swimming of fish, of bird or insect flight, and other relative motion processes. The results are used to guide and match the results of computational models of the natural systems. They help to invalidate or confirm new theories, to design novel vehicles or new methods for predicting or/and controlling the consequences of earthquakes, tsunamis etc, or to understand the flow of fluids next to solid structures, and many other processes. (Wiki-précis)
Hexacopter (6 rotors)
Tag Team: BMMRO, University of St Andrews (Scotland), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Hexacopter: BMMRO, NOAA
Photo Credits: top two, moi (from BMMRO research vessel); remainder except for last, BMMRO; last, Wiki