Aerial drones are valuable tools for whale and dolphin research.

Drones • Research

Drones are one of our most important tools for collecting information on whales and dolphins. Many traditional methods are ineffective or unnecessarily invasive to the species being studied. Drone technology has improved, allowing for passive observation and data collection. Oceanico Huatulco’s team includes commercial drone pilots with thousands of hours operating drones while researching whales and dolphins.

Drones are valuable tools for respectful observation of dolphins and whales in Huatulco.
Oceanico Huatulco uses drones to collect photos and videos of whales for our research projects.

Drones • Whales

So what information about whales does a drone allow us to collect?

Photogrammetry: collecting images of whales allows researchers to discern; the exact species, the body condition of the whales, the size, the number of animals in a group, and the relative ages of the animals in a group.

The body condition of a whale is important in determining the health of an individual. The drones can take high-resolution photos of the whales which are then evaluated in a computer program where the established body dimensions for a healthy whale are compared to the photos. This allows researchers to determine the relative health of a whale.

The size of a whale can also be determined using drone photogrammetry. Once the height and angle of the camera are known, the size of a whale in a photograph can be accurately determined. This helps researchers determine growth rates (at recapture) and the number of reproductive-age whales in a region or population.

Oceanico Huatulco uses drones to collect photos and videos of whales for our research projects.

Drone Protocols

One of the most important considerations when operating a drone over whales and dolphins is making sure the drone does not disrupt their natural behavior. Potential distractions include: drone noise, visual distraction, and direct physical impact.

Drone noise: Many scientific studies have concluded that drone noise does not cross the water barrier. In fact, drone noise is substantially less than the normal background noise of the oceans. So that the whales are not disturbed by the sound of a drone.

Visual Distraction: Through research it has been shown that whales are not disturbed by the visual distraction of a drone. The typical drones used for whale research are usually the size of a seagull. Scientists have put forward the theory that large whales are simply not concerned with anything in the sky above them (typically birds) and therefore the drone does not create a visual distraction.

Direct physical impact: This is the most obvious way a drone can disturb a whale. Modern drones have numerous backup safety systems to ensure they land safely before any direct physical impact. We have strict safety protocols and operating parameters in place when we fly drones around the whales.