Publication Details

Butcher, P., Piddocke, T., Colefax, A., Hoade, B., Peddemors, V., Borg, L. & Cullis, B. (2019). Beach safety: Can drones provide a platform for sighting sharks?. Wildlife Research, 46 (8), 701-712.


CSIRO 2019 Open Access. Context: A series of unprovoked shark attacks on New South Wales (Australia) beaches between 2013 and 2015 triggered an investigation of new and emerging technologies for protecting bathers. Traditionally, bather protection has included several methods for shark capture, detection and/or deterrence but has often relied on environmentally damaging techniques. Heightened environmental awareness, including the important role of sharks in the marine ecosystem, demands new techniques for protection from shark attack. Recent advances in drone-related technologies have enabled the possibility of real-time shark detection and alerting. Aim: To determine the reliability of drones to detect shark analogues in the water across a range of environmental conditions experienced on New South Wales beaches. Methods: A standard multirotor drone (DJI Inspire 1) was used to detect shark analogues as a proxy during flights at 0900, 1200 and 1500 hours over a 3-week period. The 27 flights encompassed a range of environmental conditions, including wind speed (2-30.0 km h-1), turbidity (0.4-6.4 m), cloud cover (0-100%), glare (0-100%), seas (0.4-1.4 m), swells (1.4-2.5 m) and sea state (Beaufort Scale 1-5 Bf). Key results: Detection rates of the shark analogues over the 27 flights were significantly higher for the independent observer conducting post-flight video analysis (50%) than for the drone pilot (38%) (Wald P = 0.04). Water depth and turbidity significantly impaired detection of analogues (Wald P = 0.04). Specifically, at a set depth of 2 m below the water surface, very few analogues were seen by the observer or pilot when water turbidity reduced visibility to less than 1.5 m. Similarly, when water visibility was greater than 1.5 m, the detection rate was negatively related to water depth. Conclusions: The present study demonstrates that drones can fly under most environmental conditions and would be a cost-effective bather protection tool for a range of user groups. Implications: The most effective use of drones would occur during light winds and in shallow clear water. Although poor water visibility may restrict detection, sharks spend large amounts of time near the surface, therefore providing a practical tool for detection in most conditions.



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