NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium
NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium

Gorgeous Images of Killer Whales from Above

NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium
NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium

Scientists have deployed all kinds of technology to study wildlife, from satellite tags and collars to field cameras. Now, a new test has shown that they could use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to study wildlife populations, too. For the first time, scientists from NOAA Fisheries and the Vancouver Aquarium used a camera-equipped UAV to take gorgeous, straight-down photos of northern resident killer whales, animals that swim in the waters near Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Their paper was recently published in the Journal of Unmanned Vehicles.

You can tell a lot about a whale from a photo. From this photo, for example, scientists were able to determine that the top female "appears skinny and in poor condition," while the female in the middle appears healthy. The whale at the bottom of the photo is pregnant—you can tell because her body bulges near the ribcage. Photo credit: NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium

They flew a hexacopter UAV (named for its six rotor blades) about 100 feet above the whales so they wouldn’t notice its presence. When whales were in the frame, the pilot used a remote link to trigger the capture of still images on the camera's flash memory. The UAV was equipped with both a high-resolution digital camera—which provided enough detail that the scientists could distinguish between the unique markings on individual whales—and a pressure altimeter, which told them the exact altitude of the UAV. Combining this information with the focal length of the camera lens allowed them to calculate the size of objects to an accuracy of 5 centimeters. 

Photo credit: NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium

“Because the image resolution is so great,” John Durban, a marine mammal ecologist with NOAA Fisheries, said, “we can monitor very small changes in an animal’s condition from year to year,” Durban said.

The UAV flew a total of 60 successful missions last year, snapping photographs that aren't just beautiful, but useful too, allowing scientists to “make very precise measurements from them,” Durban said. “We can’t put a whale on a scale, but we can use aerial images to analyze their body condition—basically, how fat or skinny they are.”

By examining the photos, scientists can figure out (among other things) if the whales are eating enough; these northern whales, which are categorized as threatened under Canada’s Species At Risk Act, eat mostly Chinook salmon. The dwindling numbers of Chinook could be adversely affecting the whale population.

Photo credit: NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium

Scientists have used manned aircraft to do this sort of thing for decades, but UAVs provide a number of benefits: They're less expensive to fly, can take off from small vessels, and are much quieter than manned planes, allowing scientists to observe the whales without bothering them.

Two killer whales playfully butt heads. Photo credit: NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium

Researchers conduct a summer census annually to determine how many whales have died. "But mortality is a pretty coarse measure of how well the population is doing because the problem, if there is one, has already occurred," Durban said on the NOAA Fisheries blog. The UAV, however, "can give us a more sensitive measure that we might be able to respond to before whales die."

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 119th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."


Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."


Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."


By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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