It’s summer in Antarctica right now, which means temperatures along the coastline are hovering around freezing. David Johnston, a marine biologist at Duke University, and his colleagues have been taking advantage of this balmy weather. Over the past several weeks, they have sent fixed wing and multicopter drones soaring over the shoreline and coastal seas.
“The key thing is to keep the batteries warm before we put them into the drone,” Johnston says. “We use typical hand warmers that you would use when you go skiing.”
The intrepid drones have been spying on penguin colonies and humpback whales. To learn about wild animals, biologists have traditionally flown small planes or helicopters overhead, poured over satellite pictures, or approached on foot. But Johnston and other scientists are increasingly turning to drones to see if they can’t get the job done better and more quickly. “Drones can offer a very safe, green, and inexpensive alternative to manned aircraft,” says David Bird, an emeritus professor of wildlife biology at McGill University in Montreal.
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