UAS are the Latest Tool Helping Marine Scientists Study Ocean Wildlife

A humpback whale as seen from a UAS.

David Johnson, marine biologist at Duke University, sent unmanned aerial vehicles to fly over Antartica's shoreline and coastal seas to study wildlife and the environment during the balmy weather the area is experiencing nowadays.

“The key thing is to keep the batteries warm before we put them into the drone,” Johnston says. “We use typical hand warmers that you would use when you go skiing.”

The UAS have been capturing penguin's colonies and humpback whales. To learn about these animals, biologist usually use small planes or helicopters to get the imagery necessary for their studies, but Johnston believe that drone will do the work better and more quickly.

“Drones can offer a very safe, green, and inexpensive alternative to manned aircraft,” says David Bird, an emeritus professor of wildlife biology at McGill University in Montreal.

Even though the drones are a convenient solution, there are some limitations. Depending on the weather, drones can't handle extreme conditions or fly over large areas. Also, the UAV may stress animals in some cases.

“We are still trying to figure out what we can do and what cannot be done with drones,” says Margarita Mulero Pázmány, of the University of Cádiz in Spain and the Technical University of Loja in Ecuador.

The biologist are investigating whether drones can be used to count animal populations and track their movements. UAVs may be able to prevent poachers, explore uncharted or dangerous territory, and get a better view of animals without disturbing them.

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