The new photos reveal intimate details about how Southern Residents nurse, swim and raise their young. (NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken by UAV from above 90 feet under NMFS research permit and FAA flight authorization)
Scientists tracked the growth of young whales compared to images taken last year. (NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken by UAV from above 90 feet under NMFS research permit and FAA flight authorization)
A mother whale eats salmon brought to her by another whale. It is thought that every whale in the group contributes to the life of a new calf by supplementing the mother's fishing. (NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken by UAV from above 90 feet under NMFS research permit and FAA flight authorization)
The entire group of killer whales shows the variety of sizes at different ages. In the future, scientists will use these pictures to determine whether the endangered whales are getting enough to eat. (NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken by UAV from above 90 feet under NMFS research permit and FAA flight authorization)
An adult female Southern Resident killer whale nurses her calf. (NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken by UAV from above 90 feet under NMFS research permit and FAA flight authorization)
The matriarch (middle) with two of her children. The top whale is her newest calf. (NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken by UAV from above 90 feet under NMFS research permit and FAA flight authorization)
Drone images reveal that mothers remain very close to their calves during the first weeks of their lives. Their bonds last a lifetime in matrilineal groups. (NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken by UAV from above 90 feet under NMFS research permit and FAA flight authorization)
Scientists used a hexacopter to capture images of the killer whales. (NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken by UAV from above 90 feet under NMFS research permit and FAA flight authorization)

Keeping you current

Drones Captured These ‘Killer’ Whale Family Portraits

Not just beautiful, these photos show that raising killer whale calves is a family affair

smithsonian.com

When it comes to endangered species, conservationists and scientists have a tricky tightrope to walk. They need to assess populations’ activities as well as size and health, but don’t want to disturb delicate species—especially endangered ones. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration solve this problem by using drones, which recently captured a stunning rare glimpse of killer whales and their babies.

The images above were taken by NOAA on a recent research expedition. And they’re more than eye candy: They’re a first glimpse at members of an extremely endangered population. In fact, only 81 Southern Resident killer whales still exist, says NOAA’s Rich Press in a blog post about the expedition.

The research expedition spotted a milestone in the whales’ lives—a baby boom that’s heartening marine biologists. No less than five new killer whale babies have been born in the past year, and the new photos reveal intimate details about how Southern Residents nurse, swim and raise their young.

The photos reveal the closeness of killer whale mothers and calves during the very first days of their babies’ lives and how entire killer whale families get involved in nursing and protecting precious calves.

For more information on the spectacular images above, check out this video, which features marine biologist John Durban’s in-depth explanations of the images.

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