…………..RIP Bertie

Drone launch from Saoirse

After spending a few days in Caleta Buena and the Puerto Slight area (where thankfully we haven’t discovered any new deadwhales since our last visit in November), we headed north towards Seno Newman in hopes of finding signs of signs of live Sei whales. Once our permit comes through we can observe and take samples from the live whales, which will give us useful insight into their health and behaviour – and should help unravel the mystery of the ongoing mass mortality.

Unfortunately, shortly into the journey north we started spotting the dreaded pink carcasses on a nearby shoreline. After getting closer we confirmed they were in fact dead whales. We’ve been documenting each new whale with our shiny new DJI Mavic 2 drone (which we named Bertie) in order to provide picture evidence and rough measurements of the whales to SERNAPESCA (the Chilean fisheries department). So today we launched the drone from Saoirse as usual to document one of these new whales. I flew a few hundred metres over to the whale, took the photos, and flew back – the whole process took probably less than 2 minutes. An easy mission, or so I thought.

As I started descendingfrom around 100m (battery level still at 90% or so), I suddenly lost connection to the drone. This happens sometimes and thankfully it normally reconnects without too much fuss. But this time was different. Out of nowhere we hear one of the motors going into overdrive, and the drone starts spinning out of control. Then silence, and the drone plummets in freefall. A couple of seconds later there is a sickening splash as it hits the water (now upside down), and just like that the drone is gone.

We’ve all tried to work out what went wrong, but no-one really knows. Seems like some kind of hardware malfunction. Anyway we’re all a bit disheartened. Bertie had been a faithful companion, we’d flown him over 300km in the couple of months we used him, and he’d captured lots of useful data about whales, many of which we wouldn’t have been able to access by boat. Now Bertie’s gone, we’re only left with his twin Charlie (and his older brother Arnold, a Phantom 3). We’ve fitted him with some LIDAR photogrammetry gear and he’s ready for action.

Long live Charlie!