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Half Mag / Half Zine

New camera-equipped drones are giving Australian lifeguards an eye in the sky on the lookout for sharks.

For decades, Queensland has used baited hook drumlines and nets to protect surfers and beachgoers from sharks, but these more indiscriminate methods can also kill and injure marine life such as dolphins, dugongs, and turtles, as well as the sharks themselves.

Running from September 2020 to October 2021, a trial of SharkSmart Drones found that more sharks, including those greater than 6-feet and therefore potentially dangerous, were seen by drones than were caught in hooks and nets.

From the detection of 48 big sharks out of the total 172 observed, four beach evacuations were ordered. As the truly dangerous shark attacks are almost exclusively with bull sharks, tiger sharks, and white sharks, most of the sightings didn’t require an evacuation.

Four times as many large and potentially dangerous sharks seen at Ocean Beach on NS Island and Burleigh Beach than were caught in the protective equipment which lined the waters.

The SharkSmart drones fly about 12mph around 60 yards above the water beyond the surf break. The operators will fly them in 400 meter stretches looking for sharks. If they do see one, they can fly lower to confirm the size and species. There were some problems operating the drones in heavy weather, but far fewer people would be on the beach in those times.

A similar project in neighboring New South Wales was implemented in 2017, and conservationists are urging the quick transition away from nets and baited hook drumlines which wound 70% of the animals caught in them.

There are other advantages to the drones, writes Hakkai Magazine.

“You’re more likely to save someone from drowning than interacting with a dangerous animal,” Leo Guida, a shark scientist with Australian Marine Conservation Society, told Hakkai. “There are clear benefits across the board.”