© Thomas Seitz / VDOS Global

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Offering new insights into Arctic wildlife

In 2017, a 1.5-minute video of narwhal feeding on fish in Nunavut’s Tremblay Sound went viral, attracting more than six million views and major media coverage.

What caught the world’s attention were small jerks of the whales’ spiral ivory tusks. With each tap of their horn, narwhal were stunning their prey before swallowing them.

This was the first-time biologists witnessed this type of behaviour, and it was captured because of drone technology. Until unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) became commercially available, biologists were limited to watching marine wildlife from boats, planes or helicopters.

WWF-Canada’s Arctic team has used drones to monitor bowhead whales in their habitat. These aerial vehicles allow staff to zoom in on each whale to measure their size and catalogue the unique marks that distinguish one individual from another. Repeating the exercise each year or two reveals how individuals and populations are shifting in a fast-changing climate.

Similar to the narwhal case, drones were able to capture never-before-seen behaviours of bowhead whales. The ancient giants were seen exfoliating themselves by rubbing against shallow underwater rocks — the cetacean equivalent of a spa day.

Drone technology complements Inuit knowledge by providing insight on species behaviour and movements. Those insights can also be used to determine protected areas, establish shipping lanes to reduce whale interference, and other conservation measures.

© VDOS Global / WWF-Canada

Providing endless insights

Conservation drones provide an endless number of uses from monitoring the smallest ecosystems to analyzing large landscapes, as well as studying animal behavior with minimal disturbance. They are revolutionizing data acquisition and wildlife monitoring techniques and can help shape future conservation decisions for many species’ populations at risk.

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6 Million

The exciting narwhal footage caught by drones had more than 6 million views.