First-Ever Successful Drone-based Tagging of Endangered Sei Whales in U.S.


An uncrewed aerial system (UAS or drone) attaches a suction cup equipped, biologging tag to the mother of a mother/calf sei whale pair. The tag delivery device, specially developed by Ocean Alliance, can be seen falling away, while tag remains attached to the whale. The non-disruptive nature of the UAS tagging technique is evidenced by the mother’s mouth open feeding immediately following tag attachment. Video credit: Chris Zedra, Ocean Alliance, permit #18786-06 issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service. 

The effort was part of a collaborative study from BOEM, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and other groups that will shed important light on the whales’ acoustic behavior. Researchers will use this data to inform mitigation strategies – including passive acoustic monitoring – to protect these endangered species from the impacts of offshore wind energy activities.