SnotBot Expedition 12 to Sea of Cortez Is Underway!

Dear Friends,

The first SnotBot expedition for 2020 (expedition 12) is underway. We have just arrived in Loreto Mexico (Sea of Cortez) to study blue whales.

Blue whales come to calve, mate and feed on the krill that blooms in the Parque Nacional las Bahias de Loreto. These blue whales are part of an Eastern North Pacific population that most likely migrate from the waters of Costa Rica to California. Blue whales are still endangered worldwide the greatest challenges to their continued recovery are ship strikes, pollution, and climate change. In recent years their migration seems to be shifting northwards, likely in response to warming oceans, there is a need to better understand this northward shift. The annual migrations of blue whales are less defined and are less understood than other species such as humpback whales – which have better defined feeding and calving grounds and more direct migratory routes. It is important that we further our understanding of these migration shifts for conservation purposes.

In short our expedition goals are:

    • Collect exhalation samples for DNA, Hormone and Microbiome work.
    • Collect multiple exhalation samples from an individual animal so that our analysis partners can better validate hormone levels, by having one big sample to work with. This type of work is called a focal follow.

 

  • Conduct a Photogrammetry study of all whales that we encounter (particularly of mother calf pairs). Photogrammetry is a technique whereby a photograph is used to determine the size and body condition of an animal: a simple, yet remarkably accurate, indicator of an animal’s health. Such data is traditionally collected using light aircraft which is less accurate, more likely to stress a whale, and prohibitively expensive.
  • Collecting fecal (poo) samples, for microplastics research. Plastic is the most prevalent type of marine debris found in our ocean today; however, not a lot is known about microplastics and their impacts on whales. More field and laboratory studies are needed to understand the amount of microplastics being ingested by whales and other marine life and the impacts they have on animal and ocean health. Blue whale poo is pink, it is always fun bringing pink whale poo back through US customs.
  • We plan on “virtually taking kids with us” on this expedition through a variety of social media activities (stories are already on Instagram @oceanalliance) and video/audio conference calls from the field. We will be conducting this work in collaboration with Linda Dennis and the Backpack Journalists, their first video short can be found here.

 

Since the photogrammetry work that we will be doing will be new to a lot of the locals we have created a photogrammetry postcard (attached) that we will hand out to local fishermen and whale watch boats so that they know what we are doing and why.  Unlike a collecting a blow sample which requires a drone to be quite low, a photogrammetry drone can fly as high as 30 meters.

The team on this expedition is me, cinematographer Christian Miller, science manager Andy Rogan, robotics manager Chris Zadra, data manager Britta Akerley and business manager Alicia Pensarosa.

Chris has found a way to compress our videos so you can see some of the spectacular views that we get from the air, I have attached four video shorts to this e mail:

 

 

 

 

We are bringing a great 360 degree camera with us, as with the SnotShot video we are constantly trying better to understand the airflow around the drone as we collect Snot.  I think that we are going to get some fabulous science and general interest shots on this trip, and likely see and record things that we have never seen before (fingers crossed).

So from all of us here in Loreto, Gracias por ser parte de esta expedición!

Iain

 

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