Measuring Whales from the Air – Hexacopter Photogrammetry of Cook Inlet Beluga Whales

Hexacopter Landing Cook Inlet
LTJG Hollis Europe ready to receive Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Hexacopter, after a flight. Photo: NOAA Fisheries.

For the first time, an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), a hexacopter, is being used to collect photographs of the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale to estimate the length of individual whales and learn more about why it has been slow to recover despite many efforts to help it. John Durban from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center’s Marine Mammal and Turtle Division has provided a hexacopter flight team of two NOAA Corp officers, LTJG Hollis Europe and LTJG Jake Barbaro, to assist principal investigator Paul Wade of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

The Cook Inlet beluga whale is a genetically distinct population that declined rapidly in the 1990s, and continued to decline more slowly in the 2000s, resulting in it being listing as an Endangered Species. Read more about this exciting investigation in the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Dispatches from the Field.

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