Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Flying robot to track whales off Australia

A flying robot is to join the fight to save the world's whales by taking part in an aerial survey to count humpbacks off Australia, a report said Sunday. The remote-controlled drone will patrol waters off Australia's North Stradbroke Island, taking pictures scientists hope will enable them to count the migrating whales, Sydney's Sun-Herald newspaper said.Scientists hope using the five-metre (16-foot) wingspan drone will result in a more accurate estimate of the animals' numbers and help convince Japan to stop its annual whale hunt."Migrating humpbacks usually travel singly or in pairs, and often you just see their blows before they submerge again," Michael Noad of the University of Queensland told the newspaper."They're spread out on a long migratory path so you have to cover a bit of ocean to find them."The first stage of the experimental project will test how easy it is for researchers to access data and whether images can be viewed in real time.North Stradbroke Island is located just off Brisbane, the capital of Queensland state.Greenpeace has welcomed the project, saying such non-lethal methods could help convince Japan that killing the whales for research was not necessary.Japan had planned to kill 50 humpbacks this year out of a total 1,000 whales during its hunt in the Southern Ocean.But it dropped the plan to kill humpbacks after international protests.Humpbacks form the backbone of a lucrative whale-watching industry in Australia and New Zealand.

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