SNOT-COPTER: Drone at Work
Spider Magazine for Kids|February 2021
THE BOAT IS on the move. It speeds over icy waters toward a humpback whale.
Dionna L. Mann

Holly Fearnbach, John Durban, and Lance Barrett-Lennard are on board. They’re whale scientists on a mission. They’re about to use a hexacopter—a remote-controlled drone with six propellers—to collect some whale snot.

Whales are mammals. They have lungs and cannot breathe underwater. Whales hold their breath when underwater, then rise to the surface to breathe, using their blowholes kind of like how humans use their two nostrils. What you see spurting out from a whale’s blowhole isn’t a plume of water—it’s actually condensed whale breath! As the whale exhales, its breath comes out warm and mixed with droplets of snot. The warm air from the whale’s lungs condenses the cold air and forms a misty, snot-filled plume.

A humpback whale like the one Holly, John, and Lance have been tracking can exhale at a speed of 300 miles per hour, causing the blow to reach nearly 10 feet high or higher! As their boat approaches the giant whale, the three scientists get the hexacopter ready.

The hexacopter is battery powered. It’s small, sturdy, and lightweight. The scientists have attached a powerful digital camera to its bottom side, a collection plate to its front, and a petri dish to its top. When a humpback blows, the hexacopter is a perfect tool for collecting the whale’s snot.

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