We trialed the collection of blow samples using a waterproof electric multirotor (quadcopter) drone from two free-ranging dolphin species, the abundant and approachable bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) and the less common and boat shy humpback dolphin (Sousa sahulensis). This drone was fast, maneuverable, and quiet compared to other drones commonly used in studies of cetaceans and relative to their hearing thresholds. We were successful in collecting blow samples from four individual dolphins (three bottlenose dolphins and one humpback dolphin) in two groups. The success of obtaining samples was dependent on the individual dolphin's activity. We were successful in sampling when dolphins were resting and socializing but found that socializing dolphins were not predictable in their surfacing and direction and therefore do not recommend drone sampling socializing dolphins. The suitability and preference of the sampling technique over biopsy sampling is highly dependent on the dolphin activity. We also attempted to extract DNA from the blow samples with the aim of assessing the feasibility of using blow sampling by drone for population genetic studies. We were unsuccessful in extracting DNA and recommend that others attempting to sample dolphin blow with a drone should prioritize collecting a larger volume of blow that may yield adequate concentrations of DNA to be amplified. Blow sample volume could potentially be increased by sampling with more absorbent materials.
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- animal welfare
- remotely piloted aircraft
- unmanned aerial vehicle