Drone technology for whale health

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Science  27 Oct 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6362, pp. 494-495
DOI: 10.1126/science.358.6362.494-c

It is hard to obtain biological samples from whales. However, whales do shed lots of material as oily slicks behind them and in their massive exhalations, or blows, at the surface. Exhalations contain tissue debris and respiratory microorganisms. Apprill et al. used a small drone furnished with a Petri dish and a 96-well plate to capture exhaled material from 28 humpback whales off Vancouver Island, Canada, and Cape Cod, USA. 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing of bacteria and archaea revealed that animals from the two populations have diverse, distinctive, and yet surprisingly consistent core microbiomes in common with each other and with small, toothed cetaceans: bottlenose dolphins. Fortunately, in this study, no known cetacean respiratory pathogens were detected. These data offer a glimpse into what a healthy microbiota state might look like for a baleen whale.

mSystems 10.1128/mSystems.00119-17 (2017).

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