Whales in the wild

Whales are renowned for the spectacular behaviour they exhibit at the water’s surface. Scientists study this behaviour to gain insight into how these animals live. But whales spend most of their time below the surface, hidden from view.

Nowadays, scientists use equipment like cameras, digital tags, and non-lethal sampling techniques to investigate whales’ underwater lives. They can now record whale movements and sounds and images of whale behaviour. They can also collect genetic material for information on such things as whales’ gender, sexual maturity, and birth rates.

Darting into whale research

Whale researchers use darts to get samples of skin from live whales for genetic analysis. The dart is fired into a whale’s skin using a modified rifle like the one here. The dart is designed to release and float to the surface with its sample of whale tissue.

Less than a gram of material is taken, but this is enough to gain important genetic information.

Individual whales can be identified through their unique genetic fingerprints. The samples become part of an archive, and can be used in thousands of experiments. What’s more, the whale isn’t harmed in the process.