Biologists fly drone to track health of endangered orcas

Federal biologists flying a drone have taken thousands of aerial images of endangered Puget Sound orcas that show the whales to be in good condition.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Wednesday that several appear to be pregnant and most of the 81 whales were in robust condition.

Researchers are using images taken by the drone to track the health and growth of individual whales over time. They want to know whether the marine mammals are getting enough food to eat, how successful they are at reproducing and how their body condition changes over the years.

The scientists flew the 4 1/2 -pound drone in the waters off Washington state’s San Juan Islands for several weeks in August and September. The hexacopter flew at about 100 feet over the orcas.