Marine Mammal Care

Beneath The Surface: Southern Resident Killer Whale Aerial Photogrammetry

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Join us for another Beneath The Surface, our lecture series for ocean lovers to learn from conservation experts! Dr. Holly Fearnbach will discuss Southern Resident killer whales (SRKWs).

Dr. Fearnbach will talk about her ongoing aerial photogrammetry (using drone photography to measure whale health) research, on the endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales (SRKWs). The project (now in its 15th year) uses remotely operated multicopter drones to non-invasively collect aerial images of SRKWs that are analyzed to monitor their growth and assess their body condition, including seasonal and annual changes in condition. SRKW health metrics are shared with management groups in both the US and Canada to help inform management decisions aimed at recovering the population.

Dr. Fearnbach is the marine mammal research director of SR3, SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation and Research, a Seattle area non-profit dedicated to the welfare of marine wildlife in the Northeast Pacific. For more than two decades she has worked with government, NGO and academic research groups on studies to support the conservation of whales and dolphins in US waters and internationally. Holly graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen (U.K.) in 2012 and her research currently involves using individual-based data to study the demography and health of whale populations around the world. Dr. Fearnbach and her colleagues pioneered the use of remotely operated drones to non-invasively assess the health of free-ranging cetaceans and she currently uses both photographic mark-recapture and aerial photogrammetry to assess the status and health of killer whales in the North Pacific, with a focus on the endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales, killer, humpback and minke whales in the Antarctic Peninsula and North Pacific gray whales.