It’s hard to say what the 2,000-pound bull Steller sea lion hauled out on a rocky shore in the far western Aleutians thought about the strange object hovering 150 feet above him. Whatever it was, he paid it no mind—and that’s just what the people who were piloting the small drone, an APH-22 hexacopter, had hoped for. Sometimes an adult sea lion, rushing into the water, will crush a pup that happens to be in the way.
But the little drone, nicknamed “Stella,” not only didn’t scare the sea lions, it was able to fly in low clouds and fog that grounded the NOAA plane. “It was even able to detect body condition and branded animals,” Erin Moreland of the NOAA Marine Mammal Lab explained to a crowded conference in Fairbanks last fall on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as engineers prefer to call drones.
A great Nat Geo story that looks at a wide range of use cases in the Arctic. One gets a real sense that the uses for UAVs are limited only by the imagination. The video is from NOAA and is a tad on the dry side but it’s clear how much Stella adds to the scientists ability to study these big critters.