Drones Are ‘Weighing’ Leopard Seals In Antarctica

Drones Are ‘Weighing’ Leopard Seals In Antarctica
Image: iStock

Knowing how much seals weigh can give researchers important information about prey availability, habitat quality, and the overall the health of marine ecosystems. But getting close enough to take measurements is dangerous to say the least. Did you know to measure the seals, they need to be sedated? And sedative is given based on just a guess of how much they weigh?

Look, just send in the drones, I say.

A team of US researchers recently used drones to take aerial photographs of leopard seals on Livingston Island in the Antarctic Peninsula, where a seasonally resident population hauls out along the coast. The researchers compared known body measurements to from aerial photographs – using 50 images of 15 leopard seals at a variety of altitudes, ground surfaces, and body positions.

And guess what? Accurate size and mass estimates were able to be made from just the photographs.

“This suggests that drones could also provide a cost-effective, noninvasive way to assess body condition in other pinnipeds (seals),” the researchers say, “which is important because tracking pinniped responses to environmental changes is critical to understanding and managing marine ecosystems.”

Dr Krause added that we continue to develop methods to gather the data we need to manage wildlife populations in a safer, non-invasive way.

“The drones help provide measurements that are just as good as, or better than, traditional field methods, but without the need to ever bother the animals.”