Dolphins are agile, intelligent, joyful, playful, and socially skilled creatures that share many emotional similarities with humans.

Drones. The word conjures up reconnaissance missions and surveillance—even, perhaps, missiles and bombs. Like something out of a science fiction novel, these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS) are controlled either by “pilots” from the ground or a preset program.

Increasingly, however, drones are being employed in more peaceful projects. Dave Anderson of Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari in Dana Point, California, recently used one to create a five-minute video that contains what arguably could be called some of the most beautiful footage ever taken from the air of thousands of common dolphins stampeding off Dana Point; three gray whales migrating down the coast off San Clemente; and close-ups of a newborn humpback whale snuggling and playing with its mother, filmed during a trip to Maui.

Anderson got this footage while standing in a small inflatable boat, launching and catching the DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter drone—with an attached GoPro HERO3 Black Edition camera—by hand, where a miss could mean personal injury from the four propeller blades or loss of the drone. Previously, Anderson lost a drone in the water when, on takeoff, it nicked a small, VHF radio antenna on his 14-foot, rigid inflatable craft.

In the near future, could drones help save endangered species, such as humpback whales? @Travis John Andrews

This technology, which offers steady footage from the air at a low price ($1,700), is new and easy to operate. Just a few years ago, the copter would have cost $10,000 to $20,000 and required a great deal of flying skill. Because of his recent experiments with the drones, Anderson believes they could be instrumental in changing our attitudes about our fragile environment and the beings that share it with us.

Right now, many states are debating whether the use of drones should become illegal. While people are justifiably concerned about an invasion of privacy, this new window into the natural world could move people to appreciate the planet’s biodiversity and help conserve species.

Watch the five-minute video below, and then let me know what you think. In the near future, could drones become a useful tool in documenting animal habits and habitats and thus help us to protect them against threats to their continued existence?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,


Please note: Dave Anderson cautions any would-be whale videographers that it is illegal to do anything that causes whales to change their normal behavior. Different areas have different laws on approaching whales, but you may never approach them closer than 100 yards. Anderson is a whale-watch captain with nearly 20 years of experience, and he obeyed all laws during filming. In Maui, he and his crew watched whales from a distance for hours before the animals moved closer. The mom and calf in the film were completely undisturbed by the small drone, as you can see. NOAA is currently reviewing drones and may create laws or guidelines for using them around whales.

Fully licensed music by David Hollandsworth, themusicase.com.