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MIT Technology Review

Drones are flying over whales and collecting their snot

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This video of scientists using a UAV to collect viruses from spouting whales is just awesome.

The question: What kind of viruses live inside a whale’s lungs? That’s what a team of biologists in Sydney, Australia, wanted to know.

The problem: Whales aren’t easy to study up close in any capacity, let alone to get a snot sample from.

The solution: Last winter, researchers boarded a vessel and trailed eastern Australian humpback whales during their migration northward from Antarctica. To sample some “whale breath,” they used a drone equipped with a petri dish that could open and close. All it had to do was swoop through the plume emanating from the whales’ blow holes when they surfaced.

What they found: The team got an inventory of whale viruses, including at least a couple that were new to science. The researchers speculate that whales could transmit viruses when they spout, or pick them up from sea birds.