Parley SnotBot in action, collecting whale blow (photo by Christian Miller, Ocean Alliance)

Steve Connolly Seafood Company, Gloucester

The Parley SnotBot recording video as a whale dives in order to identify the whale (photo by Christian Miller, Ocean Alliance)

GMGI researchers Jennifer Polinski and Elizabeth Brannon with Ocean Alliance team, including Chris Zadra, CEO Iain Kerr, and Britta Akerley

A “snotted” sampling dish on the Parley SnotBot (photo by Ocean Alliance)


GMGI Takes Marine Sampling Airborne With Ocean Alliance

Acquisition of new samples is a constant challenge for marine scientists. The ocean covers 70% of earth’s surface with many intriguing marine organisms living elusively in deep water or traveling great distances. Historically, collecting samples without harming or sacrificing organisms has been difficult, or in some cases, impossible.

Ocean Alliance (OA), a Gloucester-based institute studying whales around the world, has developed an ingenious method to collect samples from whales: the Parley SnotBot. When whales surface after a long dive they release exhaled breath condensate, or “blow.” The SnotBot, a remotely-operated drone loaded with camera and sample collection instrumentation, literally flies through the whale blow. The whale is undisturbed while researchers obtain precious biological samples and imagery of the whale.

Aqueous whale blow contains abundant material for biological research: DNA, hormones, metabolic byproducts and unique microbes associated with the whale. Scientists at OA are using imagery and blow samples to track individual whales and analyze their stress levels as well as their overall health.

This summer GMGI researchers Jen Polinski and Liz Brannon joined the OA team on a sampling expedition off the coast of Rockport. The SnotBot successfully collected humpback whale blow and OA’s first ever fin whale blow sample. GMGI scientists will use DNA sequencing and bacterial culture to study the blow microbiome.This research will instigate a new marine project at GMGI which may add important knowledge to whale biology. Little is known about blow “microbiome” variation between whales, with respect to age and health, or between species such as the humpback and fin whales.

GMGI extends our thanks to Ocean Alliance for including us on the expedition. We hope this is the beginning of many joint ventures combining OA’s expertise and GMGI’s genomics capabilities to dive deeper into understanding whale biology.

All SnotBot samples and images were collected under permit #18636-01. To learn more about Ocean Alliance, please visit

Click here to view the September 2018 Newsletter >>
Our mission is to conduct world-class marine biotechnology research which expands the regional economy.

Gloucester Marine
Genomics Institute

417 Main Street
Gloucester, MA 01930

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