Researchers Use Drones to Weigh Whales

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Estimating body mass of free‐living whales using aerial photogrammetry and 3D volumetrics‘ taken from the British Ecological Society.

A southern right whale female rolling on her side and exposing her lateral side to the surface while gently touching her calf. ©Fredrik Christiansen

Researchers have devised a way to accurately estimate the weight of free-living whales using only aerial images taken by drones. By measuring the body length, width and height of free-living southern right whales photographed by drones, researchers were able to develop a model that accurately calculated the body volume and mass of the whales.

Because of their large size and aquatic life, previously the only way to obtain data on the body mass of whales was to weigh dead or stranded individuals.

The innovative method can be used to learn more about the physiology and ecology of whales. “Knowing the body mass of free-living whales opens up new avenues of research. We will now be able to look at the growth of known aged individuals to calculate their body mass increase over time and the energy requirements for growth. We will also be able to look at the daily energy requirements of whales and calculate how much prey they need to consume.” said Assistant Professor Fredrik Christiansen from Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies in Denmark and lead author of the study. Continue reading