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First Mission Completed Using Drones in Whale Research

BY Alan Perlman
2 September 2016

August 29, 2016 (Gloucester, MA) – Ocean Alliance, an organization dedicated to promoting ocean and human health, has just completed the first mission using “snotbot” drones in U.S. waters to collect data from whales in a non-invasive way.

DJI Stories - Snotbot: Pushing the Frontiers of Whale Research

“The use of drones for research and conservation is much like the invention of the microscope for cellular biology – it has opened up a whole new world for us to discover,” says Dr. Iain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance. “In our ten days on the Alaskan waters we had one single focus: collecting data, backing up data, eating, sleeping and doing it all over again. We have seen and documented hundreds of whales, including calves, with every type of feeding behavior and play. At least once a day during this mission we would look across the water and see whale blows all around us. On occasion we would shut our eyes and just listen to the cacophony of whale blows. It has been an extraordinarily successful expedition.”

Ocean Alliance was founded by renowned scientist Roger Payne in 1970 and has been a pioneer in developing benign research techniques for more than four decades. The most recent iteration of this philosophy – the snotbot – is a lightweight drone that flies over a whale and collects exhaled breath condensate, or snot. The snot is a treasure trove of biological data, including DNA, micro biomes and hormones. The use of drones is a game changer for marine mammal research with the real prize being the collection of physical, biological data from whales without them even knowing. With an affordable price point and changeable payloads from a high definition camera for Photogrammetry, to a FLIR night vision system, the drones open doors for researchers around the world that they could only dream of a few years ago.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently released its regulations governing the commercial use of drones, allowing more flexibility for commercial operators. Ocean Alliance is now one of a handful of organizations benefitting from using drones for non-profit conservation work. Frost Brown Todd, a leading law firm in the area of Unmanned Aircraft (drones), has assisted Ocean Alliance through the regulatory compliance aspects of using snot-bots in whale research.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of working in this field of law is to help leverage the incredible power of drones for the public good,” says Frost Brown Todd attorney James Mackler. “This technology plays an increasingly important role in many industries and here is a great example of how it’s also advancing scientific research.”


About Ocean Alliance

Ocean Alliance collects a broad spectrum of data on whales relating particularly to toxicology, bioacoustics, and genetics, and from that data they and their team of scientific partners advises education and policy-makers on wise stewardship of the oceans, to reduce pollution, to prevent the collapse of marine mammals, fish populations, and other sea life. Lear more at


About Frost Brown Todd

Frost Brown Todd is a full-service law firm serving some of America’s top corporations and emerging companies. With attorneys regularly identified by clients, peers and industry organizations as leaders in their practice areas, the firm advises and protects clients in business transactions and litigation in many industries, including insurance, financial services, manufacturing, real estate, construction, energy and health care. More than 500 attorneys in 12 offices in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia provide unparalleled service to meet clients’ needs; deliver the insights and solutions available only from a diverse group of professionals; and support the communities in which they operate. To learn more, visit

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