Snotbot: It's Whale Research With a Funny Name

The Snotbot can safely gather mucus from whales, an important method for gauging their health and determining threats in their environment. . (Photo: Ocean Alliance)

What's the best way to gauge the health of whales in the wild? Turns out, it's the mucus inside their mouths and noses that's expelled through their blowholes. Unfortunately, this treasure trove of bacteria and DNA is not easily accessible, with researchers often forced to move close to whales to gather samples.

In an effort to come up with a better method that neither stresses nor aggravates these majestic mammals, the nonprofit Ocean Alliance has developed a waterproof aerial drone named the "Snotbot."

"By using Snotbots, the whale never knows the data is being collected," the organization explains. "The custom-built drones fly well above the surface of the water and into the blow, the subjects are never touched or approached closely."

With a little help from actor Patrick Stewart, the Ocean Alliance has launched a $225,000 Kickstarter to help build an army of Snotbots to study whale populations in three locations off the coasts of North and South America. While the bots hover over the whales to collect their blow, the research vessels can safely remain more than a quarter of a mile away.

With [whale snot] we can see virus and bacteria loads, analyze DNA, and look for environmental toxins that have been absorbed into the whale’s system," the group says. "Perhaps most importantly, we can test for levels of hormones, which gives us information on the reproductive cycles and stress levels of these creatures as they are increasingly impacted by human activity in their natural habitats."

Like all good Kickstarters, this one comes with some sweet rewards for those willing to make a big donation. These include, the naming rights to one Snotbot ($2,500), an invite to the expedition wrap party in Gloucester ($5,000), and opportunities to join the research team on location in either Mexico or Alaska ($10,000).

To contribute, jump here.