On one fateful day, Kerr was chasing whales but finding them particularly uncooperative. When the whale finally surfaced, it did so right next to the boat, exhaling a cloud of snot that enveloped the conservationist.
"It was wonderfully horrible—it was sticky and smelly," says Kerr. The bouquet contained notes of a fish market where everything's a year old. "A blue whale's lungs are about the size of a VW. So imagine they're exhaling this. I mean, you are immersed in this cloud of the worst bad breath you've ever smelled.
"That's when I realized, maybe I smell an idea here."That idea is SnotBot, a drone like no other. Now, instead of dangling off the side of a boat, crossbow in hand, Kerr flies SnotBot—a consumer drone with petri dishes stuck to the top—right over a whale. With each exhalation, the whale spouts some of its bodily cells along with some of the hormones and organisms that make up its microbiome. (The mist you see isn't actually seawater. It's warm air from the whale's lungs turning to vapor when it hits the cold atmosphere—like how you can see your own breath on a cold day.) This fine mist carries a wealth of information about the health of the whale. By tracking the same individuals over time, which he does by identifying the unique shape of their flukes, he can monitor fluctuations in their health. It's less invasive than the crossbow method, and way more fun.
To learn more about the intricacies of being a whale snot drone pilot, we sat down with Kerr in the video above.
- Mind control for the masses—no implant needed
- Here's what the world will look like in 2030 ... right ?
- Everything and nothing is a tech company now
- The war vet, the dating site, and the phone call from hell
- Room to breathe: My quest to clean up my home's filthy air
- 👁 Will AI as a field "hit the wall" soon ? Plus, the latest news on artificial intelligence
- 🏃🏽♀️ Want the best tools to get healthy? Check out our Gear team’s picks for the best fitness trackers , running gear (including shoes and socks ), and best headphones