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Last Updated: Wednesday November 12 2008 09:24 GMT

Whales' helicopter health check

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A whale gets a heli-check-up!

Getting sick whales to say 'aaaah' isn't easy, but experts have come up with a new way to give the creatures a health-check - using model helicopters!

Radio-controlled helicopters are flown over the whales' blowholes with special attachments to take samples from their water vapour when they breathe out.

Then the samples are tested to see if the whales are carrying any diseases.

Scientists came up with the unusual technique because it's so difficult to study diseases in the giant creatures.

Dr Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse from the Zoological Society of London said in the past, most of their studies had to be done on dead whales.

"I was determined to find a way to crack this problem," she said. "Currently we have extremely limited knowledge of the health of our wild, free-ranging whales.

"Continued application of this technique throughout the world's oceans could provide us with the world's first assessment of the disease status of our whale species."