He's played a captain of the USS Enterprise, an all-powerful mutant schoolmaster, and basically every Shakespearean role worth mentioning -- but now Sir Patrick Stewart is lending his talents to the most noble cause of all: whale snot collection.

As Stewart illustrates in the video above, human researchers can be a major pain for the whales they're trying to study. That's not great, especially when those whales are members of an endangered species. But simply leaving them alone isn't an option. If we don't understand whales, we can't help protect them from natural and man-made threats.

[Endangered whales are dying off in Alaska, and scientists are racing to discover why]

That's why the Ocean Alliance carefully designed and built something called a Snotbot -- and why the organization is looking to crowdfund $225,000 to use them.

Snotbots are drones that do exactly what they sound like they do. They collect snot. Remotely.

What a world!

Whale snot is important: Scientists can use it to test their hormone levels, which is an important way of monitoring their stress levels and reproductive health. Snot can also reveal viral and bacterial loads and exposure to toxins. It can be used to analyze a whale's DNA, too.

[This giant whale evolved nerves that stretch like bungee cords]

But until Snotbot came on the scene, it was virtually impossible to get a sample of a whale sneeze (a.k.a a blow, where they shoot fluids out of their blowholes). Getting any kind of biological sample meant chasing down a whale in a noisy motorboat -- not fun for such acoustically sensitive creatures -- and shooting them with a special dart.

[Scientists are puzzling out the mass death of endangered whales in Chile]

The Snotbot just hovers over those whale sneezes and gets the goods -- while researchers pilot the drones from as far as half a mile away, keeping the whales blissfully ignorant of their presence.

With the $225,000 they're hoping to raise with their Kickstarter campaign, the Ocean Alliance will take the bots on research trips to three locations chosen for their prime whale activity. Campaign rewards include whale "adoption" ($35), various Snotbot-branded clothing and accessories, and vinyl records of whale songs ($135), among other goodies. High-rollers can go on a whale watch with the Snotbot crew -- or even join them on one of the funded expeditions.

h/t Smithsonian Magazine

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