Assessing the health of free-ranging cetaceans (dolphins and whales) is extremely challenging. While capture-release health assessment efforts have provided valuable data on individual health for a number of cetacean populations, they are expensive, logistically complex, and introduce some stress and risk of injury to both the human handlers and the animals. Aerial photogrammetry, the science of deriving highly accurate measurements of objects from vertical aerial photographs, has emerged as a powerful tool for remotely and non-invasively measuring the size and shape of individuals to assess body condition (i.e. total body energy reserves), a key health parameter. We are developing techniques for remotely assessing the body condition of free-ranging bottlenose dolphins using aerial photogrammetry, including using a small unmanned aerial vehicle to acquire vertical aerial images of animals. We hope to provide a health assessment tool that not only will be applicable to a wide range of species, but will enable the routine health monitoring of individuals and populations and, in turn, facilitate more proactive conservation and management measures. This Fellowship Training Grant will provide extensive research training that is likely to produce a future established investigator in veterinary health research.
Grant amount awarded
Rachel M. Cassoff, DVM