In the wake of Australian surfer Mick Fanning’s close encounter with a shark at the J-Bay Open in South Africa, and in an even more devastating incident of two teenagers losing limbs in separate incidents spaced only 90 minutes apart at the same North Carolina beach, shark-spotting techniques have been widely discussed.
Methods currently employed include lifeguards taking hours-long jet ski trips, trained ‘shark-spotters’ stationed on cliffs, nets placed in the water as barriers, and plane fly-overs. All have major limitations, including money, labour and time drawbacks, and clearly leave room for errors.
It may be no surprise that drones are again the latest tools being utilised in the lifeguard sector. With a 10-minute flyover, an entire beach can be monitored for suspicious looking shadows or activity. If something unusual is spotted, the drones are flown closer to the water to inspect at range.
Seal Beach in California became pioneers in the practice in May 2015 when they employed drones for shark spotting.
Earlier in the year, suspicions of great whites inhabiting the area arose, and lifeguards were sent out on jet skis to monitor. This was found to be unsustainable as personnel were often tied up for several hours when they were needed onshore, and at ground level it proved hard to spot any potential shadows or movement indicative of a shark.
Marine Safety Chief Joe Bailey decided to trial a drone, and found he had huge success with it.
Within the first week, Bailey and his crew had spotted 10 juvenile great whites in shallow waters where waves were breaking – a popular area for surfers. While the juvenile sharks don’t pose a threat to humans, it allowed for warnings to be posted and the water to be closely monitored.
The direction of the sharks can also be tracked and lifeguards can be on alert for potential larger and more threatening sharks that would call for the beach to be closed.
While certain factors limit drones – such as short battery life and difficulty flying in poor weather – the benefits outnumber the limitations. When before there was no true cost-effective and accurate way to monitor shark activity in waters, drones have now provided once again.
Discover other ways drones are helping society in a previous blog: 5 Unexpected Uses for Drones and subscribe to our newsletter for more drone-related news!
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