What Is SnotBot?

SnotBot® is a modified consumer drone that flies through the blow of a whale and collects exhaled “snot” on petri dishes. This blow contains a treasure trove of valuable biological information: DNA, stress and pregnancy hormones, microbiomes, and potentially many other biological compounds and indicators of the animal’s health and ecology. Best of all, the whale doesn’t even know we are there: This is a non-invasive tool that is safer for the animals and cheaper and more effective for the user.

Why We Need SnotBot

Whales and dolphins today face more threats than ever before, and these threats are diversifying and intensifying. Many are critically endangered.

If we want to protect these animals, we need bold, non-invasive, innovative solutions that enable us to collect more affordable and better data for understanding these threats and how they are affecting the animals. At Ocean Alliance, we believe that the solution is drones!

The purpose of Ocean Alliance’s SnotBot program has been to explore and push the boundaries of this new research paradigm, determining what data can be collected with a drone and how best to collect it. Using SnotBot has many benefits when collecting biological samples from whales: it is non-invasive, we get a huge range of data, and it is relatively affordable.

Advantages of SnotBot

Democratizing science A single tool that can collect a wide range of data but that costs relatively little represents a paradigm shift in the way we study whales. Drones can empower groups in the developing world, enabling them to conduct research and collect data on marine mammals that they would not be able to do using the research vessel model.

Benign Ocean Alliance was founded by Dr. Roger Payne on the premise of studying whales without doing them harm. Especially when working with endangered species, it is vital not to add to the stresses facing the animals while conducting research. During 7oo approaches to whales to collect snot samples, there have only been 3 reactions to the drone.

Vast range of data The blow samples that SnotBot collects contain DNA, stress and pregnancy hormones, and microbiomes, and possibly other indicators of the animal’s health.

SnotBot has shown us the potential of using drones in research, and has led us to create an entirely new program, Drones for Whale Research.