Whale scientist Nadine Gibbs during the annual whale survey in the Cook Strait, 2007. She is holding a paxarm rifle which is used to collect DNA samples from whales. Photograph by Derek Flynn, reproduced courtesy of The Marlborough Express.
Darting into whale research
Whale researchers use darts to get samples of skin from live whales for genetic analysis. The dart is fired into a whale’s skin using a modified rifle like the one here. The dart is designed to release and float to the surface with its sample of whale tissue.
Less than a gram of material is taken, but this is enough to gain important genetic information.
Individual whales can be identified through their unique genetic fingerprints. The samples become part of an archive, and can be used in thousands of experiments. What’s more, the whale isn’t harmed in the process.