Technical Entrepreneurship alum is the Drones for Whale Research Program manager for Ocean Alliance

A team including Lehigh Engineering alum Chris Zadra '16 '17G successfully deployed suction cup data-tags on blue and fin whales in the Gulf of California using a drone (UAV), according to a press release from Ocean Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting whales and their environment.

The ground-breaking effort was a collaboration by researchers from Ocean Alliance, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, University of Michigan, and Syracuse University. The team detailed their innovative approach to safely and efficiently applying the tags, which carry specialized sensors for data and audio/video collection, in a paper published in the April 19, 2023, edition of the journal Royal Society of Open Science.

According to the release, the method "may hold advantages for studying vulnerable or hard-to-study species by potentially reducing stress from tagging activities." 

Zadra, who holds a bachelor's degree in applied science and a master's degree in Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) from Lehigh, is the Drones for Whale Research Program manager for Ocean Alliance, which he joined in 2018. He works on the organization's SnotBot initiative, which uses drones to collect whale snot that is expelled through the animal's blowhole as a non-invasive means of monitoring and studying whale health.

Zadra developed the system and methodology that was used in the tagging field test that was the subject of the paper, which he co-authored, and he has since deployed suction-cup attached tags on 60 whales and five different species (blue, fin, humpback, sei, and gray). 

"Throughout the M.Eng. in Technical Entrepreneurship program at Lehigh, Chris was able to blend his technical skills related to drones with his entrepreneurial mindset in solving interdisciplinary challenges with novel solutions," says Michael Lehman, director of the TE program and a professor of practice. "His career as an innovator in the Drones For Whale Research Program is forging new pathways in data collection, impacting the greater good."

Read more about the aerial platform for tag deployment on Ocean Alliance's website and Instagram.

Main photo: An aerial view of a drone tagging a blue whale. Credit: Christian Miller/Ocean Alliance

Chris Zadra

As Drones for Whale Research Program manager for Ocean Alliance, alum Chris Zadra ’16, ’17G uses skills in protype and software development that he developed at Lehigh in a role that combines his interests in drones with his appreciation for whales and the ocean.