United Nations
Drones for Whale Research: SnotBot
by Ocean Alliance (Non-governmental organization (NGO))
Whales in our oceans today face more threats than ever before. Chemical pollution, climate change, noise pollution, bycatch/entanglement in fishing gear, loss of prey species and ship strikes the prime antagonists in a long list of destructive, diversifying and intensifying pressures. If we are to save whales we need to better understand how these threats are impacting them. For this, we need more and better data.

We believe that drones can be the answer to this problem. Drones have extraordinary potential in the fields of whale research and conservation. Ocean Alliances Drones for Whale Research program has been running since 2012. The purpose of this program has been to explore and push the boundaries of this new research paradigm. As with many novel applications of new technologies, it can be some time before the most effective and efficient use of the technology is determined. Our objective with this program is to accelerate this learning stage in order that the benefits of these tools can more quickly be reaped by the science and conservation communities. The program has focused upon doing this in as cost-effective manner as possible, in order that more researchers around the world might benefit from our work determining what kinds of data these tools can collect and how to most effectively collect them.

Thus far we have focused on collecting respiratory samples from whales using a drone, under the banner name of SnotBot. As of February 2017, we have collected 139 respiratory samples from four species of whale in four different locations.

SnotBot is capable of collecting biological samples in a non-invasive manner (current evidence strongly indicates that drones are less invasive than the majority of traditional methods of collecting physical samples). We have also demonstrated the viability of these tools for collecting bio-acoustics data, night-time/lowlight footage, behavioral data, footage for bio-kinetics analysis, photogrammetry and photo-ID. To have a single, affordable tool which can collect such a wide variety of independently valuable data forms is, we think, extraordinary and potentially revolutionary.

The program has also proven the powerful potential these tools have in science communication, delivering extraordinary visuals of these animals in their environment whilst telling a story constituting a very real scientific adventure.

Progress reports
By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
Type of commitment
  • Other (please specify): developing novel techniques to studying ocean plastics.
  • Plastics recovery/recycling/reuse:
By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans
Type of commitment
  • Community or Locally Managed Marine Areas
  • Integrated Coastal Management
  • Large Marine Ecosystem approach
  • Ecosystem-based Adaptation
Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels
Type of commitment
  • Scientific research and cooperation to address ocean acidification knowledge gaps
By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics
Type of commitment
  • Reduction of fisheries by-catch and product waste/losses
By 2030, increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism
Type of commitment
  • Economic benefits from sustainable tourism
Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular small island developing States and least developed countries
Type of commitment
  • Scientific, socioeconomic and interdisciplinary research
  • Scientific cooperation
  • Transfer marine technology
Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in UNCLOS, which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, as recalled in paragraph 158 of The Future We Want
Type of commitment
  • Activities to raise awareness of the comprehensive legal and policy framework for the sustainable development of oceans and seas, in particular UNCLOS, its Implementing Agreements and other relevant ocean-related instruments and promote their effective im
To collect samples from whales during our research expeditions to learn more about them and how they are being impacted by the various threats they face.
To develop a methodology and protocol which can be used globally to collect priceless data sets on whales.
To use this program as a tool of science communication: educating the public as to why whales are important and what we can all do to help protect them.
Staff / Technical expertise
Our research team is made up of experts in their given fields from all across the world.
Basic information
Time-frame: 2017 June - 2019 December
Parley for the Oceans (NGO)
Ocean Basins
  • Global
Beneficiary countries
Other beneficaries
Contact information
Andy Rogan, Mr., arogan@whale.org, 9782812814
Gloucester, MA
Other SDGs
United Nations