Rare footage of Canada's bowhead whales was released showing these large mammals in the ocean. By using VDOS Global drones, scientists were able to document high-quality images and videos of a small group of Eastern Canada-West Greenland population in the Cumberland Sound.
"It was amazing to see how the whales were completely undisturbed in the presence of the drone. You can watch them rolling, flipper slapping, tail breaching, socialising, all while being filmed by a drone at a safe distance," says Brandon Laforest, senior specialist Arctic species and ecosystems, with WWF-Canada.
Each year, hundreds of bowhead whales fed on zooplankton in Cumberland Sound during the summer season, before travelling to Hudson Strait in the south for the chilly winter months.
Only the blue whale is bigger than the bowhead – so-called because of the shape of its mouth. As the bowhead lives in freezing Arctic waters, its blubber is the thickest of any living animal, which can be nearly half a metre thick.
Sarah Fortune from the University of British Columbia spent four summers researching these elusive creatures. "The team was able to watch the whales and found that they spent the early morning feeding in deep water and then rested in shallow, coastal waters during the afternoon," Fortune told cbc news.
She believes this is the first intensive effort to study bowhead whales with the use of an aerial drone, and says researchers now have a better understanding of how the whales forage and travel.
"When you're on a boat, you can't observe the entire body ... it's like the tip of the iceberg," she said.
But the aerial footage, along with the sparkling clear northern waters, meant that researchers could watch the whales' body language in real time. Fortune says the whales did not take any notice of the drones. "They paid it as much attention as a bird flying over. It was actually quite remarkable."