How drones can help save dolphins

Humans tend to feel an innate bond with dolphins and whales that is unlike our connection with nearly any other species.

Unfortunately, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), more than 650,000 marine mammals, including whales, turtles, seals and dolphins are either killed or severely wounded every year by fishing nets.

Many of the species that are being caught up in these nets are critically endangered so we have an imperative to reduce the amount of fish we take from the oceans and take every step to avoid by-catch we can.

Heat-seeking drones to the rescue!

A new study from researchers in New Zealand and the UK showed that endangered Maui and Hectors dolphins could be detected (and by extension saved) using drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras.

How does it work? 

The researchers showed that both manned and automated drones could recognize the heat signatures emanating from the dolphins or other water-based mammals. During testing the researchers would control the drones from nearby boats and use a real-time thermal monitors to identify the presence of marine mammals in particular areas. The sensors are able to identify mammals due to them being warm blooded compared to the cold blooded fish. The system works well either at night or day and is superior to other methods for identifying marine mammals such as aerial surveys which are costly, time consuming and noisy (which often frightens the nearby marine life).

“The thermal drone systems we have designed, transmits live thermal imaging, dolphin thermal detections with GPS positions, in real time to an operator,” project leader, Martin Stanley, said.

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