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Low-flying research drones have to watch out for whale snot

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There must be some innate human fascination with cephalopod bodily fluids, because I feel like I know a lot more about the gunk that comes out of whales than I do any other animal. I know about ambergris, for one, the waxy substance that builds up in sperm whale intestines, and was (for some ungodly reason) used as a base for perfumes. And now I'm going to find out about whale snot, thanks to Chinese company DJI and a team of researchers using its drones to collect more whale goo.

Be careful, Snotbot

Researchers for Ocean Alliance are using DJI's Phantom 4 drone to shadow blue whales in the sea of Cortez, allowing them to capture pictures, video, and — yes — gooey biological samples without disturbing the creatures. The "Snotbot" project secured almost $230,000 of funding in a Kickstarter campaign last year, and collection has now begun, as the video above shows.The small drones track the whales from a few meters above their blowholes, allowing them to collect gobbets of snot expelled when they surface, and making it possible for scientists to check the chemical makeup of the disgusting mixture without needing to capture one of the giant beasts and stick their hands down its nasal cavity.

The method leaves the blue whales unmolested, but the drones themselves might need to watch out in case an overly large chunk of snot comes flying toward them. Perhaps if drone racing does catch on as a global sport in the future, a particularly sneezy whale could be incorporated as an obstacle.