It's the latest toy in the tool box: Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed off their newest acquisition at Honolulu Harbor Monday.
"These are small electric unmanned aircraft that were developed for the Department of Defense," said Todd Jacobs with the National Marine Sanctuaries program.
They look like toys, but they are expensive, at a cost of several hundred dollars for three.
They are rugged, but quiet "spy planes" if you will, equipped with an infrared and high definition camera that can be launched from a boat out at sea.
"The camera is housed in the fuselage when it takes off and lands, and in
and it pops out as soon the airplane is airborne,” said Jacobs.
This week team of about 30-40 people will be out in waters off Haleiwa about 8-10 miles off- shore.
They will be testing the camera imagery on Hawaiian monk seas and green sea turtles.
The ability to get a bird’s eye view may help in future surveys of the endangered species.
The devices have been tested in Florida and California surveying everything from oil spills, hurricane debris and climate data.
Scientists hope to make it part of an arsenal on NOAA research ships starting next year.
In addition to tracking seals and turtles, scientists will spend one day surveying for marine debris.
The plan is to gauge how effective the unmanned aerial devices may be at tracking Japan’s tsunami trash.
"We can see significant benefit in having these UA's built into cruises so they can extend the visual range of a boat going out. They could have a lot of answers, but first we need to understand how much benefit they are going to have," said Peter Murphy of the NOAA Marine Debris program.