This happened on February 14th 2014 off the coast of Maui near Kihei. I love filming from my drone and I am always looking for things to film so whales seemed like a great subject. I also wanted to show my two young boys what a whale was like because they would normally only see them blowing air from a long way away - Now they know how big and majestic these creatures are! This shoot would not have been possible without Marty and Ian for providing the boat and drone support. I would also like to give credit to my wife and my two boys Dylan and Hudson for helping us spot the whales and guide the drone.
I filmed this using a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter with a gimbal called the Zenmuse. This little camera drone is very tiny and quiet and the whales obviously did not even notice or care it was there. Using an aerial photography platform like the Phantom is a great way to raise awareness about whales and encourage people to operate motor vehicles safely in the warm waters around Maui because there are baby whales out there frolicking with their mothers!
Taking off from the boat was a bit challenging, but I never had any problems. I just rapidly blasted up into the air. There was a very tiny launch spot on the boat, so you had to get up into the air quickly. I made sure I did not have the Phantom in GPS mode because the boat was rocking in the waves and it might try and stabilize itself right into the side of the boat while taking off.
Ian and I are getting some awesome footage! Ian is very into RC and FPV and I expect to see some great things from him soon.
Marty executes a perfect drone catch! This was the best way to retrieve the drone because the boat was moving around in the waves. This might look easy, but it was tricky because the phantom is so stable and the boat was moving around underneath it.
I tried to go get some underwater footage, but they were faster than me. I also get a little spooked about big fish when I cant see the bottom (it was about 250 feet here). We also did some swimming around - it was incredible to hear the whale songs underwater. Kihei is such a cool place because the ocean is so calm and clear off the coast there.
Team Drone & Whale Nerds.
Someone recently contacted me about the laws and regulations around whales and figured I would post this response:
I have become aware of the MMPA recently because of this video and I want to stress my intentions were to observe with zero impact. I think the big question is if the little Phantom 2 is considered an aircraft or not. We certainly kept the boat far away from the whales! The whole point was to not disturb them. In my opinion, this is an excellent way to observe whales up close because there is practically no impact or chance of doing damage. The whales did not notice, or care, about this tiny thing hovering above them. Even if the drone crashed or malfunctioned, it is hard to imagine this hurting the whales or even disturbing them because it is so small relative to the whale. If someone contacts me about this, I will certainly stress that this is way safer for the whales than a boat. This is a very useful tool to whale research as well.
I would absolutly love to volunteer my time and drones to help with whale research or whale non-profits! Please contact me here to set something up. I am based in Maui.