The technology is giving the researchers a fresh perspective on the well-being of the animals, and provides yet another example of how UAVs are giving rise to new means of conservation.
Armed with a custom-built marine hexacopter, the researchers were able to monitor the status of the protected Northern Resident killer whales and the endangered Southern Resident species.
The drone tracked the whales from an altitude of 100 ft (30 m), a distance that puts it out of the whale's earshot, and collected 30,000 photographs across 60 separate flights. While the scientists are still in the process of poring over this wealth of data, they are already beginning to see the benefits of their new approach.
"The hexacopter gives us a more sensitive metric of the whales' condition than we've previously had," says Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, Senior Marine Mammal Scientist at Vancouver Aquarium.