NOAA has just captured the best picture of a killer whale calf nursing ever.
Drones have become known for hunting down suspected terrorists in Afghanistan, but now they’re being used for an entirely different purpose: seeking out killer whales.
Thanks to these drones, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released a stunning photograph — the most detailed yet — of a killer whale nursing her calf in the wild, according to a Discovery News report.
Believe it or not, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that was busy surveying a population of killer whales captured the incredible moment from the air in the seas off the coast of Seattle near the San Juan Islands.
The spectacular image above is that very photograph taken from a UAV circling overhead. Killer whale calves have been photographed nursing in captivity before, but surprisingly, no one has ever captured it in the wild in such detail.
NOAA marine mammal biologist John Durban went so far as to call the picture “stunning,” according to the report. He was part of the UAV expedition that has been flying around tracking these whale pods. Before, they had to attempt photographs with helicopters, but they had to be too high up in the air to avoid disturbing the whales. UAVs can get a lot closer.
This orca group is part of the Southern Resident killer whale population, which is a very endangered group with just 81 individuals remaining. But there is hope: five new young whales make up that group, which is a large amount for such a small population, indicating with proper protection, it could continue to grow.
NOAA uses these UAVs to check up on the whales and the calves, which is a lot easier and cheaper now with UAVs instead of using helicopters. The data from the UAVs can hep them determine if the calves are healthy and if the mother is eating enough.