Video: Drones over Dolphins

Candice Gaukel Andrews April 3, 2014 25

In the near future, could drones help save endangered species, such as humpback whales? ©Travis John Andrews

Drones. The word conjures up reconnaissance missions and surveillance—even, perhaps, missiles and bombs. Like something out of a science fiction novel, these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS) are controlled either by “pilots” from the ground or a preset program.

Increasingly, however, drones are being employed in more peaceful projects. Dave Anderson of Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari in Dana Point, California, recently used one to create a five-minute video that contains what arguably could be called some of the most beautiful footage ever taken from the air of thousands of common dolphins stampeding off Dana Point; three gray whales migrating down the coast off San Clemente; and close-ups of a newborn humpback whale snuggling and playing with its mother, filmed during a trip to Maui.

Anderson got this footage while standing in a small inflatable boat, launching and catching the DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter drone—with an attached GoPro HERO3 Black Edition camera—by hand, where a miss could mean personal injury from the four propeller blades or loss of the drone. Previously, Anderson lost a drone in the water when, on takeoff, it nicked a small, VHF radio antenna on his 14-foot, rigid inflatable craft.

This technology, which offers steady footage from the air at a low price ($1,700), is new and easy to operate. Just a few years ago, the copter would have cost $10,000 to $20,000 and required a great deal of flying skill. Because of his recent experiments with the drones, Anderson believes they could be instrumental in changing our attitudes about our fragile environment and the beings that share it with us.

Right now, many states are debating whether the use of drones should become illegal. While people are justifiably concerned about an invasion of privacy, this new window into the natural world could move people to appreciate the planet’s biodiversity and help conserve species.

Watch the five-minute video below, and then let me know what you think. In the near future, could drones become a useful tool in documenting animal habits and habitats and thus help us to protect them against threats to their continued existence?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,


Please note: Dave Anderson cautions any would-be whale videographers that it is illegal to do anything that causes whales to change their normal behavior. Different areas have different laws on approaching whales, but you may never approach them closer than 100 yards. Anderson is a whale-watch captain with nearly 20 years of experience, and he obeyed all laws during filming. In Maui, he and his crew watched whales from a distance for hours before the animals moved closer. The mom and calf in the film were completely undisturbed by the small drone, as you can see. NOAA is currently reviewing drones and may create laws or guidelines for using them around whales.

Fully licensed music by David Hollandsworth,


  1. Seafarer boats August 15, 2016 at 11:51 pm - Reply

    I am really looking forward to subscribe your blog. I really like your skill of making other people understand the topic. You have presented your thoughts beautifully. Thank you so much for this. All the best for your future work.

  2. Lotet Ronald May 14, 2014 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    It will be a good initiative if it will help monitor what happens to our rare, endangered and endemic species.

  3. Lilian Apollo May 13, 2014 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Drones should be embraced. We have just introduced drones in wildlife conservation especially in monitoring elephants.

  4. Miguel Ángel Jiménez López May 13, 2014 at 10:01 am - Reply

    Nice video, thanks for sharing!!!

  5. Becky Herbig May 13, 2014 at 10:00 am - Reply

    I read somewhere that drones are being considered or used by hunters to locate their quarry. That’s not “fair chase” in my book. The dark side of using drones for this purpose should be made illegal and be opposed even as drones have legitimate uses in legitimate wildlife management.

  6. Marian Vidovic April 17, 2014 at 10:52 am - Reply


  7. Manuel San Martin April 16, 2014 at 11:01 am - Reply

    Never seen footage like that, definitely put a smile on my face, thanks, and for many more to come. Just the existence and promotion of that single video makes it useful.

  8. Mara Martínez Morant April 14, 2014 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    The images have impacted me.They are beautiful and amazing! It is a topic that I do not work, but knowing the cetacean life I find important. For my part, the drones are welcome if they are to serve to protect and defend dolphins, whales and other cetaceans.

  9. Vicky Smith April 13, 2014 at 9:50 am - Reply

    What an interesting thought. I can see the use for research, knowledge and conservation, and it can gather footage like only BBC Natural History and National Geographic have had resources to do.

    However, we’re long past the time when most tourists have a camera, many a video, now most have both on their phone, and in most small groups of adventure-type tourists someone will have a GoPro these days. My question is how long before every small group of tourists has someone with a Go Pro on a drone, if they are not limited in some way. Drones will only get cheaper and more accesible… I can see a hideous future with volumes of them on whale-watching tours, and the havoc lack of control could bring.

    I don’t think drones should be illegal, there are some fantastic positive uses for them, but there needs to be some rules imposed on their use, especially round wildlife. Perhaps filming license applications, money to conservation funds?

  10. Jolanta A. Kruszelnicka April 9, 2014 at 9:17 am - Reply

    I LOVE IT! Wonderful VIDEO! Great Article….thank you very much for sharing it… Candice:):)

  11. Laura Zander Racic April 9, 2014 at 9:16 am - Reply

    Interesting and encouraging!

  12. Rob Hammers April 8, 2014 at 7:21 am - Reply

    This is truely amazing, thanks.

  13. Kathryn Papp April 7, 2014 at 6:15 am - Reply

    This should be shown to classrooms of young children sitting with their mothers at their side.

    The baby whale was helped by its mother when it became tired … just like mothers and their children, everywhere! Young children and mothers remember and love one another for this.

    For the Japanese, the Norwegians, the Icelanders … the love there is just as great.

  14. Geri Foster Thomas April 7, 2014 at 6:14 am - Reply

    Wow what stunning footage! Thanks for posting Candice. I can envisage numerous wildlife monitoring roles for such drones.

  15. Maurice Dixon April 5, 2014 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    Great link thanks Candice, as the video says at the end – drones are going to change how we see our world. As with all technology they have advantages and disadvantages, however, the many advantages need to be developed whilst suppressing the negativities of ‘drones’ for the wider good of our society and the environment.

    Airborne, surface and sub-surface Remotely Piloted Systems (RPSs) have fantastic opportunities for marine conservation, marine monitoring, marine protection and better understanding how shoals, pods and other marine swarms live and operate.

    ‘Drones’ designed by leveraging biomimicry from dolphins, tuna and other marine species could be integrated marine guardians!

  16. Claire Claude April 5, 2014 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    If it’s managed to protect dolphins, it’s a good project!

  17. Felicia Rebecca Wee April 5, 2014 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    I think drones could be very useful in conservation! Doing aerial surveys of sites with little disturbance, and could be useful for effective nature based tourism too. Not only to spot animals but to monitor activity from tour boats etc

  18. Sune Holt April 5, 2014 at 4:25 am - Reply

    Great presentation Candice, thanks for posting. Drones are just another technological solution, and obviously they help conveying interesting information to people in a more modern way. But it is not a stand-alone solution and the images and data should be used intelligently in presentations and campaigns. If you saw the article in The Guardian today on pressuring the Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, which should be the world’s biggest online retailer of elephant ivory and whale meat, it is obvious that we need convincing the general public and launch all the dissemination we can mobilize. This includes videos and good writing. The link to the Guardian is:

  19. Simon Bradley April 5, 2014 at 4:24 am - Reply

    Beautiful video indeed.
    I know one company that is using drones in humanitarian relief work (looking for life signs in the rubble after an earthquake, for example) and who are now trialing them in turtle nest monitoring on long beaches at nighttime and anti-poaching patrols in Kenya using night-vision (these drones have live video-feeds to a pilot) sure others have even better examples…naturally there must be considerations about wildlife interference and such..but come on…anything this cool like the video you posted that inspires people to watch is at least a winner for awareness raising an d engagement..even if Dave uses it to promote his business at the same time.

  20. Marian Vidovic April 5, 2014 at 4:22 am - Reply

    I do not think Japan will stop anytime soon since they do not comprehend that they are doing anything wrong or damaging. Until that time comes, I will continue to boycott Japanese products and spread the word to others to do the same.

  21. Venkatasamy Ramakrishna April 5, 2014 at 4:21 am - Reply

    Gives us more to think about Candice. We may have reached a stage where technology will not only help us to map, track and study wildlife, but also to identify and track wildlife criminals.

  22. Ray Najar April 5, 2014 at 4:21 am - Reply

    Candice, what an amazing experience that this video delivers.
    It shows how technology can bring us closer to the wider environment and to better understand the beauty of nature. Dave and his wife are to be commended for sharing this with us.

  23. Kimberly Wheeler April 5, 2014 at 4:20 am - Reply

    Initially saw this about a month ago. Very cool!

  24. Jurgen Hoth April 5, 2014 at 4:19 am - Reply

    Candice, what a delightful visual treat! Many thanks for sharing!

    I can only imagine the impact images like these could have if GreenPeace boats would document in such close quarters the slaughtering of whales. It would be a well deserved media blast against the whaling industry.

  25. Bill Lauto April 5, 2014 at 4:18 am - Reply

    Candice, this is excellent. Not just for the data we can obtain, but to have a peaceful and sustainable use for drones!

    Bill Lauto,

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