Chris Zadra is helping to save the planet, one whale at a time. Zadra flies drones that collect data on whales as part of a critical mission to protect the giants of the ocean from environmental and human threats. He uses a drone called SnotBot® in a groundbreaking project to capture whale blow for biological analysis. And he may be the only person in the world using drones to drop data tags onto the backs of whales to gather unprecedented insight into how whales live.
Zadra turned his engineering acumen, entrepreneurial spirit and longtime interest in drones into a life-changing career as program manager for the Drones for Whale Research program of Ocean Alliance, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit whose motto is “Save the Whales, Save the Oceans, Save Ourselves.”
Whales are crucial to the world—and not just because they are magnificent creatures. Says Zadra: “A lot of people don’t realize the importance of whales to climate change. Whales capture a huge amount of carbon from the atmosphere because they are so massive. And through eating and pooping, they help to fertilize phytoplankton, which captures carbon and produces the oxygen we breathe. The amount of potential positive impact on humans in the form of improved climate from having more whales is massive.”
Zadra’s path to Ocean Alliance was serendipitous. While at Lehigh, he built and flew drones as a hobby. At Lehigh, he met Dan Levy, who now works at a drone start-up in California. When Ocean Alliance wanted to purchase some of the company’s drones, Levy joined its expedition to Mexico to test the drone. There, Iain Kerr, the CEO of Ocean Alliance, asked Levy if he knew anyone who might be interested in working in the new drone program at the nonprofit.