SnotBot drone helps researchers gather information on whales

Researchers have figured out a new way to gather information about whales by using a marine drone called SnotBot.

CEO of non-profit Ocean Alliance Iain Kerr was spending his days in the Gulf of Mexico with his team of researchers chasing sperm whales every time they surfaced when he came up with the idea.

The team would wait for the whale to appear, and try and shoot the mammal with biopsy darts to get blubber to be analysed - a tiring effort that often wouldn't work.

Whales can dive as deep as 1158 metres and stay under water for 90 minutes, making it a constant waiting game.

Mr Kerr told he was sitting in the boat contemplating how badly the day went when a cloud of whale blow settled over him. He said he knew the whale blow wasn't just water and air but it also had biological material, and considered the idea that a drone would easily be able to gather the "whale snot" in a much more efficient manner.

He began working with a team of engineers at Olin College in Massachusetts, and they came up with the SnotBot, a drone mounted with petri dishes. A Kickstarter campaign was made with the help of X-Men actor Sir Patrick Stewart.

Since 2015 the drone has been able to collect more than 500 samples - not just limited to whale snot but also whale poo. It also has the ability to drop microphones and take high-resolution photos.

Mr Kerr said it had also given people the ability to see whales from a whole new perspective, including capturing how humpback whales catch prey and a mother stroking it's calf with its pectoral fin.

The next study will take place in Gabon, West Africa.