Flying high-tech drones close enough to southern right whales to catch some of the bugs they blow out will help tell scientists more about the effects climate change is having on the planet.
An international team of scientists, led by Otago University marine biologist Professor Steve Dawson, this week leaves for the wild and windy subantarctic islands for a month-long expedition to shed more light on the nutrition of the big ocean mammals.
What insights they gain will help them discover more about how the species is faring here and around the world, along with how a warming world is affecting one of the most sensitive parts of the globe.
From small boats off the cold and stormy Auckland Islands, about 465km south of Stewart Island, Dawson and his colleagues will use drones mounted with cutting-edge photogrammetric camera technology.
The drones, fitted with a specially developed laser range-finder to measure altitude, will take images of whales precise enough to take highly detailed measurements from.
"This is really state-of-the-art stuff," Dawson said.
"But it's also going to be a very challenging part of the world to use this approach in, because it's extremely windy, wet and cold, and drones don't like any of those things."
At the same time, they're hoping the drones will be able to collect samples of the whales' blow as they exhale.