How drones are helping scientists study future whales

The sight of a 50-foot whale breaching is breathtaking. Water slides down the whale's back as it leaps above the surface, shooting spray in the air and then crashing back into the water. The powerful ocean giants make their own waves with mighty, mid-air twists and turns.

Every now and then, a powerful spray blasts into the air from the creature's blow hole. The average onlooker just sees a cloud of vapor, but marine biologists view it as important genetic material.

Researchers at Ocean Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to conservation efforts, are using drones capture the breathtaking image with aerial photography — as well as the genetic material in petri dishes.

Ocean Alliance created the "Snotbot," a drone they designed to capture both images of the whales and live biological samples of the "snot" the animals exhale through their blow holes. The team mounted petri dishes to the drone's base so that when the drone hovers above a breaching whale, the propellers create a vortex. This pushes the whale's spray down into the sample trays.