Whale Watchers Warned: Fly Drones Responsibly During Migration Season
As the annual spectacle of whale migration off the south coast of Western Australia unfolds between May and October, photography enthusiasts are eager to capture these majestic creatures. However, marine biologist Joshua Smith has reminded drone users to maintain a distance and act responsibly to prevent disturbing the marine life.
Humpback, southern right, and blue whales journey northwards for breeding and feeding during this period, returning to Antarctic waters thereafter. Given the accessibility challenge posed by marine life, drones have become a popular tool for enthusiasts to capture images and footage.
Smith noted, “Marine mammals are obviously quite difficult to get to, so people are using and looking to use drones because you get greater access to the animals.”
However, the increased recreational and commercial use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), such as drones, has raised concerns about potential disruptions to marine life.
“Education is paramount and getting the word out is critical,” stated Smith.
He reportedly encouraged the public to look to state government websites for guidelines and resources.
According to the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, drone users should maintain a minimum distance of 60 meters from marine mammals, including whale sharks, whales, orcas, dolphins, dugongs and seals.
Prior to any RPA flight, the relevant district office should be contacted to mitigate any potential interference with aerial or park management operations.
Smith emphasized, “It's making sure there's no disturbance to the whales when they're resting or when the mothers are calving their young, weaning their young, just basically enabling the whales to do what they need to do without being disturbed.”
In a recent study by Marine Mammal Science, it was observed that belugas tend to respond to drones, with sudden dives increasing as drone altitude decreased, particularly below 23m. The study suggested that drones might frighten the whales, but disturbances were rare when the drone was flown above 30m in altitude.
Therefore, responsible drone usage is crucial to ensure that these gentle giants can continue their natural activities undisturbed.
Photos courtesy of Murdoch University and Josh Smith
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