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Former 'Star Trek' actor Patrick Stewart supports SnotBot drones to help whales

Ocean Alliance teams up with the former "Star Trek" captain to help raise money for snot-collecting drones for whale research.

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Researchers are hoping to let drones collect important whale snot samples. Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Whether you love or hate drones and quadcopters, they're here to stay. Drones might get a bad rap thanks to disrupting efforts to fight California wildfires and injuring entertainers on stage, but they also spot criminals and help with disaster relief.

Now drones could be helping with whale research. Ocean Alliance and Olin College of Engineering have joined forces to create custom drones called SnotBots that will collect "blow" or snot exhaled from the whale's lungs by hovering over them without bothering them in the process, then return the samples to researchers at another location.

Snot samples taken from whales contain viruses, bacteria, DNA and environmental toxins which are crucial in marine research.

"Perhaps most importantly, we can test for levels of hormones, which gives us information on the reproductive cycles and stress levels of these creatures as they are increasingly impacted by human activity in their natural habitats," according to Ocean Alliance's Kickstarter page.

Former "Star Trek" actor Patrick Stewart has also lent his support to help raise awareness about Ocean Alliance's SnotBot Kickstarter campaign.

In their Kickstarter project video, Stewart shows the necessity for less invasive and more automated tools for whale research.

"I'm asking you to support my good friend Captain Iain Kerr at Ocean Alliance in their quest for better, more effective, less invasive, innovative research that will give us answers to some of the mysteries about the ocean and particularly whales," Stewart said in the video.

Project backers, which will help fund the drones, get "access to the data we collect in an easy-to-understand report, as well as updates with photos and videos from the field," according to the Kickstarter page.

Almost 500 backers have pledged $31,104 so far. The Kickstarter has until August 25 left to reach its $225,000 goal.