Captain Dave Anderson of Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Safari in Dana Point, California, at great personal risk, has recently filmed and edited a 5-minute video that contains some of the most beautiful, jaw-dropping, footage ever taken with a drone from the air of a huge mega-pod of thousands of common dolphins stampeding off Dana Point, California, three gray whales migrating together down the coast off San Clemente, California, and heartwarming close-ups hovering over a newborn Humpback whale calf snuggling and playing with its mom as an escort whale stands guard nearby, filmed recently in Maui.
According to N.O.A.A. Southern California has the greatest density of dolphins in the world.
We have pods up to 10,000 strong stretched out for miles like the wildebeests of Africa. Over 400,000 common dolphin alone. We also have the largest concentration of blue whales on earth.
Capt. Dave explains, "This is the most beautiful and compelling five minute video I have ever put together. I learned so much about these whales and dolphins from this drone footage that it feels like I have entered a new dimension! I have not been this excited about a new technology since we built our underwater viewing pods on our whale watching boat. Drones are going to change how we view the animal world. Wow!"
Capt. Dave had to film this off a small inflatable boat, launching and catching the quadcopter drone by hand where a miss could mean injury to him from the four propeller blades or loss of the drone.
He actually lost one drone on takeoff when it nicked his small VHF radio antenna on the 14 foot rigid inflatable he was filming from and it went into the water.
Alone six miles offshore Capt. Dave, without thinking, dove into the cold, late-January waters off Dana Point to retrieve the valuable footage taken on a flight a half hour earlier that morning.
"I had my hat and glasses on, I was fully clothed with long-johns on to keep warm and my cell phone and wallet in my pocket," Captain Dave explained.
"It was a stupid move, but the copter started sinking so fast it was my only hope to get the amazing footage I had just shot".
Since then he has attached flotation to the skids, which would save the footage, but every flight over the water still risks the DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter with a small GoPro HERO3 Black camera on it, as the $1,700 rig is not waterproof and the skids will not keep it upright on the ocean.
"I get so nervous every flight over the water now, after the accident, my hands start shaking," explains Capt. Dave. "My wife says no more drones if I lose this one. But she said that before I lost the other one. Now that she's seen what it can do, I think she's just as hooked as I am".
"This technology, that offers such steady footage from the air for such a low price and is so easy to fly, is new. This was a ten or twenty thousand dollar copter a few years ago and flying those took a great deal of skill. I can't wait to see what footage this year will bring with this drone, getting a different perspective on the amazing sightings we already have off Dana Point. There is debate in many states right now about making use of these drones illegal. People are justifiably concerned about invasion of privacy. But it would be a shame to have this new window into a whale's world taken away."
Entanglement in fishing gear takes the lives of nearly 1,000 dolphins and whales ever day around the world. Captain Dave formed Orange County's first whale disentanglement group in 2008 and has been involved in disentangling several whales, including a gray whale named Lily, whose disentanglement in Dana Point Harbor made national headlines.
He authored the award-winning book, "Lily, A Gray Whale's Odyssey", which won eight awards in 2013 including the prestigious Benjamin Franklin award for Best New Voice from the Independent Book Publishers Association.
A Special Note From Captain Dave:
Attention any would be whale videographers: please only attempt this if you are extremely familiar with whale behavior as it is illegal to do anything that causes the whales to change their normal behavior with big fines- and the authorities do watch YouTube.
Different areas have different laws on approaching whales.
I am a whale watch captain with nearly 20 years of experience.
All laws were obeyed by us during filming.
In Maui we sat watching whales from a distance for hours before they moved closer to us.
You can never approach them there closer than 100 yards.
The Mom and calf as you can see in the film were completely undisturbed by the small drone.
NOAA is currently reviewing drones and may create laws or guidelines for using them around whales.