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Scientists use drone to sample whale breath and snot

Boffins flew a tiny drone over the blow hole of a couple humpback whales while in the US and Canada to amass the germs living of their very own breath. Sampling the field of germs and germs living indoors whales, called the microbiome, helps us better determine what creates a wholesome whale, and also exactly what goes on whenever that the whale becomes ill. From the new research, published this week in the journal m-systems, scientists describe 25 species of germs found in each humpback's breath they sampled.

Though they don't really know how exactly these organisms influence the fitness of the whales yet, a number of the exact germs are usually seen in other marine animals, indicating they play a role in keeping the animals healthy. The analysis is also the latest example of how drones can help scientists in their quest to save species: in Hawaii, botanists can also be using drones to find rare plants at hard-to-reach places such as waterfalls.

Just like humans, creatures possess a microcosm of organisms inhabiting their bodies -- that help keep them healthy. While we are just beginning to explore the human microbiome and its works, very little is known concerning the microbiome of predator, particularly within their breathing organs, even where a great deal of infections occur. So researchers chose to sample the spray of water plus snot coming from the hole atop the whale heads, which the creatures use to breathe at the surface.

Usually, whale breath is accumulated by approaching the creatures -- which is up to 60 feet long, in the event of humpbacks -- with a little vessel, and then holding 23-foot pole using a collection plate over the blowhole. That's obviously time-consuming and dangerous -- for whales and people. In search for a better method, scientists used a remote-controlled hexacopter equipped with a petri dish. They then flew it a few feet over the blowhole of 26 healthy humpback whales off the coast of Cape Cod in the Atlantic Ocean and Vancouver Island in the Pacific.

The researchers discovered 25 species of microbes in the breath of all whales, such as 20 that were previously found in several other marine mammals. That implies that these organisms are connected to the creatures' respiratory health, according to the study, even though it's not exactly clear how. But knowing what makes the microbiome of a nutritious whale might help us track their wellbeing, identify harmful pathogens in the future, and possibly understand how pollutants from the water may affect whales.

That is key for their conservation. Numerous snakes have been listed as endangered or critically endangered, including a few humpback whale populations off the coast of northwest Africa and Central America.