Science and Technology

Saildrones and Snotbots in the Blue Anthropocene: Sensing technologies, multispecies intimacies, and scientific storying

Drones or unpersonned vehicles are mobile sensing technologies that collapse space and enhance proximity between scientists and marine species. As such, they improve the collection of biological data – images, migration maps, and fluid samples, for example. But while the drone’s benefits to oceanography are apparent, it is less clear what marine species receive for their unintentional participation in data collection. Building on ethnography, piloting experiments, interviews, and scrutiny of public blogs and scientific texts, this article documents two cases of drone oceanography, interrogates the multispecies intimacies they forge and considers what scientists return to marine animals in exchange for their biological data. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration directs ocean-surface Saildrones to follow northern fur seals in the Bering Sea, and Ocean Alliance, a not-for-profit research organization, collects microbes from cetaceans by flying aerial drones, or Snotbots, through their exhale. With the aim of generating more equitable reciprocities in waters that are surveyed by drones and increasingly challenging to live within, this article offers storying, or the building of existential narratives that support conservation through public engagement, as a way of forging multispecies reciprocities in the Blue Anthropocene – an era marked by existential urgencies, technological materialities, and elemental constraints.

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Volume 40 Issue 5

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