[MARMAM] New article on the use of drone for blow sampling in small odontocetes

Sandro Mazzariol sandro.mazzariol at unipd.it
Mon Jul 6 21:36:52 PDT 2020

Dear collegues

we're happy to share with you the publication on Plos One of a paper 
investigating the application of a specific sampling tool attached to a 
UAV to analyze the blow from small cetaceans and their respiratory 

*Centelleghe C, Carraro L, Gonzalvo J, Rosso M, Esposti E, Gili C, 
Bonato M., Pedrotti D., Cardazzo B, Povinelli M., Mazzariol S. (2020) 
The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to sample the blow microbiome 
of small cetaceans. PLoS ONE 15(7): e0235537. 

Recent studies describe the use of UAVs in collecting blow samples from 
large whales to analyze the microbial and viral community in exhaled 
air. Unfortunately, attempts to collect blow from small cetaceans have 
not been successful due to their swimming and diving behavior. In order 
to overcome these limitations, in this study we investigated the 
application of a specific sampling tool attached to a UAV to analyze the 
blow from small cetaceans and their respiratory microbiome. Preliminary 
trials to set up the sampling tool were conducted on a group of 6 
bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) under human care, housed at 
Acquario di Genova, with approximately 1 meter distance between the 
blowing animal and the tool to obtain suitable samples. The same 
sampling kit, suspended via a 2 meter rope assembled on a waterproof 
UAV, flying 3 meters above the animals, was used to sample the blows of 
5 wild bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Ambracia (Greece) and a sperm 
whale (Physeter macrocephalus) in the southern Tyrrhenian Sea (Italy), 
to investigate whether this experimental assembly also works for large 
whale sampling. In order to distinguish between blow-associated microbes 
and seawater microbes, we pooled 5 seawater samples from the same area 
where blow samples' collection were carried out. The the respiratory 
microbiota was assessed by using the V3-V4 region of the 16S rRNA gene 
via Illumina Amplicon Sequencing. The pooled water samples contained 
more bacterial taxa than the blow samples of both wild animals and the 
sequenced dolphin maintained under human care. The composition of the 
bacterial community differed between the water samples and between the 
blow samples of wild cetaceans and that under human care, but these 
differences may have been mediated by different microbial communities 
between seawater and aquarium water. The sperm whale's respiratory 
microbiome was more similar to the results obtained from wild bottlenose 
dolphins. Although the number of samples used in this study was limited 
and sampling and analyses were impaired by several limitations, the 
results are rather encouraging, as shown by the evident microbial 
differences between seawater and blow samples, confirmed also by the 
meta-analysis carried out comparing our results with those obtained in 
previous studies. Collecting exhaled air from small cetaceans using 
drones is a challenging process, both logistically and technically. The 
success in obtaining samples from small cetacean blow in this study in 
comparison to previous studies is likely due to the distance the 
sampling kit is suspended from the drone, which reduced the likelihood 
that the turbulence of the drone propeller interfered with successfully 
sampling blow, suggested as a factor leading to poor success in previous 

The publication can be found at the link here below


Sandro Mazzariol

Prof. Sandro Mazzariol, DVM, PhD
Dipartimento di Biomedicina Comparata e Alimentazione (BCA) - Università degli Studi di Padova
Cetaceans strandings Emergency Response Team (CERT)
Centro Interuniversitario per la Ricerca sui CEtacei (CIRCE)

Viale dell'Università 16
35020 - Legnaro (PD)

tel.: +39 049 827 2963
fax:  +39 049 827 2973
skype: smazzariol

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