In the Empty Arctic, How to Get the Job Done? With a Drone.
When the weather is bad and civilization distant, the best way to count sea lions—or survey fires or oil spills—may be an unmanned aircraft.
It's hard to say what the 2,000-pound bull Steller sea lion hauled out on a rocky shore in the far western Aleutians thought about the strange object hovering 150 feet above him. An odd bird? The world's largest mosquito? Whatever it was, he paid it no mind—and that's just what the people who were piloting the small drone, an APH-22 hexacopter, had hoped for.
When the researchers survey sea lions the usual way, from a plane belonging to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the animals often get spooked. Sometimes an adult sea lion, rushing into the water, will crush a pup that happens to be in the way.
But the little drone, nicknamed "Stella," not only didn’t scare the