Drone project update
Drone shot of a mother and calf pair of fin whales in the St. Lawrence. ©TerreSky/MICS Photo
As you may noticed by our foggy articles and social media updates, our drone project was slightly hindered by weather conditions. However, MICS still managed to gather enough data to start making preliminary observations about this year's new research project.
So far, we have managed to gather data points on over 30 different individual fin whales and one blue whale. This includes both photographs that allow us to photo-identify the individuals, as well as overhead footage that allows us to detect the presence of entanglement scars.
Top: drone image of the front of a blue whale. Bottom: As this blue whale fluked when it dove, it revealed a significant notch on the top of the peduncle and some abrasion on the trailing edge. The yellowish colour is due to diatoms. ©TerreSky/MICS Photo
The past couple of months have been a learning curve and allowed us to refine our research method with our drone partners from TerreSky. We have been working on determining the best approach style and the best camera parameters defined. We are then were left to contend with the natural elements. The sea state is our most limiting factor, as any ripples at the surface of the water may distort body features and impair our ability to detect scars, along with light reflection. This means that we have to be severe in our selection process and only use images that are of the highest quality and detectability. This will ensure that we are not biased towards the big, pronounced, easy-to-see scars, but account for the smaller and subtler ones too.
This short GIF shows some of the water turbulence and glare that may sometimes obstruct our view of the fluke, but these calm water conditions are otherwise ideal for data collection. ©TerreSky/MICS Photo
In order to rule out any scars that may have been cause by anything other than entanglement, we will be focusing on a specific area of the body: the insertion point of the fluke and peduncle, as well as the leading edges of the flukes. Scars found on these body parts are almost certain to be caused by entanglement.
These two photos of flukes show the ideal flat calm conditions neeed to see clearly below the surface. ©TerreSky/MICS Photo
Our preliminary observations note that entanglement rates based exclusively on photo-identification data have likely underestimated the issue. We are confident that this project will yield results, however there are still a few technical questions to answer, and more data points to collect.