Hanky-Deprived Drones Taste Whale Snot for Science

A whole world of biomass floats in the boogers of a whale’s exhaust, and it’s a biologist’s dream to explore it. Whale snot carries everything from DNA samples to hormone signatures. But getting close enough to a surfacing whale for long enough to actually sample this snot turns out to be a nightmare when done by boat. Researcher [Iain Kerr] and a team from Olin College of Engineering thought, why not use a drone instead? Behold, the Snotbot was born!

Snotbot is essentially a petri-dish-equipped commercial drone that users can pilot into the exhaust of a whale to collect samples before the cetacean dives back under. After 7 missions and over 500 collected samples, Snotbot is putting-to-rest years of frustration from researchers anticipating their next chance for a shot of snot. Along the way, the team have also leveraged it to image the whale’s fluke (a fingerprint equivalent), drop underwater mics, and collect poo samples. As opposed to darts, Snotbot is non-invasive, and the whales don’t seem to mind (or even notice) who’s downstream of their boogers.

Drones are almost ubiquitous at this point in our lives–to the point where they now fall under regulations by the US government. With so many of us building our own drones at home, it’s wonderful to see groups starting to ask the next question: cool drone; now what? With reliable drones at prices that are within reach for the everyday citizen, we’re excited that we will see dozens of applications that leverage this new skyward-bound platform over the coming years. If you can’t wait, have a quick look back in time, where drones are doing maritime deliveries and blowing up debris.

5 thoughts on “Hanky-Deprived Drones Taste Whale Snot for Science

  1. Good idea for sample collection and the like.
    Surely that drone would be safer all round with a guard around the props. Although whale skin is tough their eyes are not and accidents happen all too often, its a really basic risk assessment issue – hmm…

  2. Just saw an item on TV about the Belgians using a plane to fly over ships to sniff their exhaust and determine what fuel they use and if it’s approved fuel.
    But I think to do that with a drone you’d need a Reaper or something that can stay in the air for a long time. But having said that a drone like that might still be cheaper than a regular plane and crew. And have longer shift, it’s scary how long some of those big drones can stay in the air.
    On the other hand, I’d rather see a plane come by than a military drone, make you feel kinder towards humanity, even if they have the same function.

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