PERTH—Unmanned aircraft are flying around Shark Bay in Western Australia’s mid-north coast in a trial to see whether military-style drones can help monitor and conserve marine mammals.
In an Australian first, Murdoch University’s Dr Amanda Hodgson has been funded by the Australian Marine Mammal Centre to investigate if Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are a useful alternative to manned aircraft for surveying marine mammals.
“A huge benefit of UAV is that they eliminate human risk,” she said.
“We don’t have to have observers flying low over large areas of ocean in small planes.
“In addition, they should allow more accurate detection, location and identification of species.”
Dr Hodgson has been given more than $400,000 to work with Boeing’s Insitu Pacific over three years to improve their UAV camera system to conduct surveys of dugongs and humpback whales.
“Large areas of the Australia coastline have never been surveyed for dugongs or humpback whales and UAVs capable of flying long distances may allow us to access these remote areas,” she said.
Dr Hodgson said the UAV could operate up to an altitude of 6,096 metres for up to 28 hours.
Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) Shark Bay marine park coordinator Dave Holley said the project was a step forward for conservation.
“Although these are early days, this project is great for conservation and it will help with DEC’s ongoing obligations for monitoring and conserving marine mammals such as the internationally recognised populations of dugongs and dolphins in Shark Bay,” he said.