Deployment of biologging tags on free swimming large whales using uncrewed aerial systems

David N. Wiley, Christopher J. Zadra, Ari S. Friedlaender, Susan E. Parks, Alicia Pensarosa, Andy Rogan, K. Alex Shorter, Jorge Urbán, Iain Kerr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Suction-cup-attached biologging tags have led to major advances in our understanding of large whale behaviour. Getting close enough to a whale at sea to safely attach a tag is a major limiting factor when deploying these systems. Here we present an uncrewed aerial system (UAS)-based tagging technique for free-swimming large whales and provide data on efficacy from field testing on blue (Balaenoptera musculus) and fin (B. physalus) whales. Rapid transit speed and the bird's-eye view of the animal during UAS tagging contributed to the technique's success. During 8 days of field testing, we had 29 occasions when a focal animal was identified for attempted tagging and tags were successfully attached 21 times. The technique was efficient, with mean flight time of 2 min 45 s from launch to deployment and a mean distance of 490 m from the launch vessel to tagged animal, reducing potential adverse effects resulting from close approaches for tagging. These data indicate that UAS are capable of attaching biologging tags to free-swimming large whales quickly and from large distances, potentially increasing success rates, decreasing attempt times, and reducing animal disruption during tagging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number221376
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 19 2023


  • biologging
  • drones
  • tagging
  • uncrewed aerial systems
  • whales

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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