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Shark spotters go deeper with drone data

Drone in action at Evans Head.
Drone in action at Evans Head.

AS drone trials wrap up on the North Coast, researchers want to embrace the technology to spot sharks beyond the ocean's surface.

Following the completion of phase four of the drone trial, a team of scientists has collected footage of more than 50 shark sightings from numerous NSW beaches.

The footage was obtained by contracted commercial drone operators since October.

The team, comprising Southern Cross University PhD candidate Andrew Colefax together with Southern Cross University associate professor Brendan Kelaher and NSW Department of Primary Industry's Dr Paul Butcher, aims to develop a shark surveillance system using automated drones.

SCU Assoc Prof Brendan Kelaher said the team will assess "the data collected and the advantages of people versus software to recognise sharks".

It is hoped the drones can be developed to alert lifesavers to nearby sharks without the need for a remote pilot.

Assoc Prof Kelaher said the research will also involve the use of multi-spectral cameras, more advanced than the human eye, to search for sharks.

"Using image recognition software, similar to facial recognition, we'll test whether a drone can identify the silhouette of a shark, its shape and the way it moves and send an alert to beach authorities," Assoc Prof Kelaher.

He said multiple drones would be needed to do beach sweeps given the battery life of a standard drone is about 25 minutes of flight time.

Civil aviation regulations, public safety and enduring hardware were among the problems the team will navigate during the three- year project, according to their article in The Conversation.

The DPI hopes the drone patrols can become a fixed part of the $16 million shark mitigation strategy.

A DPI spokesperson said the data from the drone trials will be collated and assessed before it is publicly released.

Topics:  department of primary industries dpi drone northern rivers beaches sharks


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