Featured Image Credit: Via Oceans Unmanned Inc./ NOAA
By: Laura O’Brien
Entanglement is a huge contributor to marine mammal deaths around the world. It is even the leading cause of death for large whales in the western North Atlantic. Innovators around the world are trying to address the issue with new technology. One of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s programs has teamed up with a nonprofit called Oceans Unmanned of Santa Barbara to see if drones can help save entangled whales.
Freeing an entangled whale is a risky procedure for both the whale and its human rescuers. A volunteer named Joe Howlett was tragically struck and killed by a whale after cutting it loose from fishing gear just last year. Oceans Unmanned of Santa Barbara and NOAA hope that drones could aid rescuers by providing an aerial view of the whale. Rescuers could use video from the drone to determine which lines to cut before approaching entangled whales.
NOAA’s entanglement program at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and Oceans Unmanned of Santa Barbara are aiming to begin their new drone program, freeFLY, this fall (when humpbacks migrate from Alaska to Hawaii). If the program is successful, it will hopefully expand to the west coast of the US, and Alaska by next year.
While some innovators are trying to find new ways to save entangled marine life, others are looking for ways to prevent entanglement. One study indicated that entanglements could be reduced by seventy percent if a material weak enough for large whales to break through is used instead of the current materials used for fishing gear. New inventions and creative uses of existing technology may be paving the way to a much brighter future for our oceans.
Learn more from our sources, https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/can-flying-drones-save-whales-trapped-fishing-gear-ncna882386 , https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5213775/ , and http://mainepublic.org/post/us-suspends-efforts-free-tangled-whales-after-death-lobsterman-canada#stream/0