Aerial surveying of the marine environment is not a new phenomenon with scientist, conservationists and researchers having long relied upon aerial images as a means of gathering data from the open oceans.
However, advances in drone technology have meant that this data gathering can now be carried out faster, more regularly and far cheaper than when manned flights were required. The quality of the imagery and footage, both transmitted in real time and stored for later review can also reduce the need for large observation teams and reveal hidden details that would be difficult to spot with the human eye.
It’s not just a visual image that drones can offer. In a groundbreaking study in Queensland, Australia, drones were deployed to hover over surfacing humpback whales and collect blow samples. A truly innovative use of UAV technology that has provided scientist with new insights into the health of the whale population and marine life without having to use costly and invasive techniques such as taking skin samples.
There are, of course, challenges to deploying drones in this way. On-board ship launches can cause calibration issues and there is the electromagnetic interference from radar and radio systems to contend with. However, specialist craft developers are working fast to create UAVs that are equal to the task – such is the belief that aerial photography and aerial videography can go a long way to furthering maritime research with unprecedented access to its creatures and their environment.
Bespoke craft are not always necessary to get results however. Researches in the Bahamas have recently been testing the capabilities of what would be considered hobbyist drones to monitor activity of larger marine animals beneath the water’s surface. They found drone video was ideal for population counting and monitoring wildlife in shallow waters without disturbing the eco-systems.
It’s not just the warm tropical marine waters that are being investigated by drones. In recent years, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust have been deploying UAVs to assist them with conservation efforts. This proactive approach to new technology has significantly improved the Trust’s data gathering abilities, created much memorable footage and allowed them to create ‘the Whale Trail’ which will show the best places on land to spot the local whales, porpoises and dolphins.
Just one more way that UAV technology is being deployed to provide real benefits outside of commercial operations.