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Oceans Unmanned: Using Drones to Save Whales

A humpback whale | Oceans Unmanned


Oceans Unmanned: Using Drones to Save Whales

A humpback whale breaching | Oceans Unmanned

Oceans Unmanned: Using Drones to Save Whales


A team of whale conservationists have been spotlighted in DJI Stories this week, following the launch of a drone program designed to help disentangle large whales in Hawaii.

Whales are at risk of injury and death when caught in lines and netting from fishing boats and marine debris, causing them trauma from lines cutting their flesh and even drowning from restriction of movement.

The desire to assist these majestic animals moved a manned aircraft pilot originally working for NOAA to create not-for-profit Ocean Unmanned to introduce drone technology to the field of ocean protection to create better outcomes for whales and those risking their lives to save them.

That man was Matt Pickett, now president of Oceans Unmanned. Speaking with DJI, Pickett and large whale response coordinator Ed Lymon talk about why and how they undertake entangled whale response.

Lymon, who has been working with whales for over 25 years, explains the difficulty and risks associated with the task of saving entangled whales. “These whales are big animals, we’re talking 45 feet long, 40 tones, and it’s just not an easy task trying to cut them free,” he said.

We used to say in the training that we’ve had no fatalities, but this last summer we had our first fatality, a fisherman who had become a whale disentangler got hit by a Right whale and it was enough that it ended up killing him.”

It’s a reminder to us all, everyone that goes out there, that it is indeed very dangerous, and it needs to be people that know what they’re doing, have the right tools and are authorised by the respective networks.”

Pickett’s team uses the drones to assess a situation before going in to rescue the struggling animal. “By using drones launched off the response boats or small support vessels we can get a better look at the whales, figure out what’s going on with less risk to both responders and the whales.”

“The drone gives us the assessment, tells us what we need and then when we do make an approach for making it to cut the animal free,” Lyman continued.

Special thanks for the video goes to NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, and Ultimate Whale Watch.

If you are interested in supporting Oceans Unmanned, please visit their website at How To Help.

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Cite this article as: Sarah Whittaker, "Oceans Unmanned: Using Drones to Save Whales," in, May 31, 2018,

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