Sharks are some of the world’s most feared animals, and make fascinating study subjects. Only recently has the technology been available to reveal fascinating insights into the underwater world of the shark, from underwater imaging equipment to expensive satellite tags. Where does the drone fit into all of this? A small UAV can provide a unique camera angle over the seas, and whilst this has been used for a few years as a filming technique (see the excellent BBC Shark series), it is only recently that science and other practical applications have been tested.
The pioneers of this appears to be the Bimini Shark Lab, based in the Bahamas. Using what looks like an off-the-shelf DJI Phantom, a researcher there appears to have been taking interesting steps with UAV Science. Firstly, by flying the drone ahead of boats containing scientists, and identifying sharks in shallow water from the air, teams of scientists can be vectored onto individuals that previously might have been missed due to light conditions or refraction. In theory, given the right weather, this could improve the number of species found during surveys if integrated as part of the survey system. Coastal areas are prone to wind and waves though, both of which are highly detrimental to drone imaging for multiple reasons. This will inevitably limit the use of drones for shark research.
However, the work at Bimini is exciting, with the sighting of a Critically Endangered Smalltooth Sawfish being facilitated by the system- they were even able to infer the length of the shark by comparison with a previously measured object in the image. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about the work at Bimini, and hopefully they will write it up in one form or another for scientific review!
Theoretically, the use of a UAV would be an interesting tool for use in Cornwall with the Basking Shark populations that appear annually- the enormous size will make them easier to spot at least!
Elsewhere, drones will be used soon in Australia to spot potentially dangerous sharks off popular beaches. Whilst I still argue that sharks suffer from a serious misperception in the media, keeping people safer can be no bad thing.