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High school students build amazing 'whale snot' drone

AP Photo/Nick Ut, File

Whale researchers for years have been collecting whale DNA through the use of nonlethal harpoons. These harpoons have grown increasingly sophisticated but they are still bothersome to the whales, and researchers have long sought to find a non-invasive way to collect the valuable material. Now a group of high school students from Massachusetts may have found a way to help.

They call their invention the "SnotBot," because researchers in Alaska have discovered a way to extract whale DNA from their spray. What they have not discovered is an efficient way to capture the whale "snot" before it dissipates into the ocean. Some robotics enthusiasts from an Ipswich, Massachusetts, high school students worked with researchers to develop a drone that hovered over the water at the perfect distance to collect the whale's spray without disturbing the whale itself.

According to WBZ in Boston, the high school students have received no class credit or pay for their work and have volunteered hundreds of hours solely due to their interest in robotics.

“It’s a game-changer at a number of levels,” said Dr. [Iain] Kerr [of the Gloucester-based Ocean Alliance].

They worked out a laser beam system that bounces off the water and transmits the drone’s position.

“We created a new device in a new way that drones can be used,” said senior Roman Gadbois, who worked on the electronics.

Sophomore Annabelle Platt worked on mechanics.

“The fact that it doesn’t bother the whale is obviously huge, because that’s what Dr. Kerr says is one of the main problems with whale research,” she said.

“To see a project like this that makes such a difference in this world is an incredible experience I think for all of us,” said Payton Fitzgerald, a senior.

The high school students have worked closely with the Ocean Alliance on their device and are hopeful for a trip to Alaska next summer to help study the whales.

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