SnotBot Goes Tagging
Ocean Alliance has developed a new, less invasive method for the deployment of non-invasive suction cup biologging tags on whales. During an expedition to the Gulf of California in 2022, we were the first to successfully tag whales using a UAV-based deployment method.
One of the most important tools in whale research right now is biologging data tags. These tags stick onto the back of a whale with suction cups (typically for around 24 hours) and give scientists enormous insights into how whales live their lives. Depth, speed, orientation, acceleration or deceleration, water temperature, acoustics, and even video! The challenge with these tags has been attaching them onto the whale; traditionally this is done by a team in a small boat that pulls up alongside a whale and attaches the tag with a long pole. We wanted to see if we could make this less stressful and safer for both whales and humans.
One of our scientific partners, Dr. David Wiley of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, said:
“In the 25 years I have been tagging whales, we have always dreamed of being able to place tags on animals from the air. The real-time aerial perspective allows whales to be followed underwater, be in position when they surface, and quickly attach tags to them. From the whale’s perspective, this alleviates the current procedure involving multiple approaches from vessels and replaces it with the less invasive approach of a small drone. From the human perspective, it replaces the need to close approach unpredictable, large animals at sea and safely substitutes a reliable remote attachment. It’s a game changer for whales, people and science”
A UAV-based tagging method provides several advantages over traditional methods. Particularly in the time it tags to tag a whale and how far away from the whale the tagging vessel needs to be. A paper detailing our methods and results from the expedition will be published later this year. Stay tuned, and follow along at instagram.com/SnotBot