Cape Cod’s Great White Sharks Could Soon Be Tracked With Drones

Inspired by a similar program in California, researchers and officials are considering utilizing drones off Cape Cod to detect and document the seasonal great white shark population that calls the area home each summer.

Earlier this year, a group of juvenile white sharks made their presence known off Long Beach in California, as the Inquisitr previously reported. Authorities in the region employed a quadcopter drone to detect the sharks, negating the need to send officers into the water to search for the animals in an effort to determine if beaches should be closed. Now, researchers and local officials in Cape Cod have taken note, and are discussing whether the technology could be beneficially employed on the east coast.

Vincent Harris, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Northeastern University, noted that the concept of using drones to track white sharks is still evolving, as WCVB reported. He pointed out that researchers at the university are working on a software system which, when completed in three to five years, will allow drones to fly a pre-set pattern, automatically searching for sharks based on the shape of their silhouettes. When it finds a great white, the drone could then relay that information to beach officials onshore.

Dr. Greg Skomal, with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, has witnessed drones used to track sharks before, particularly when filming his tagging operations off the cape, as the Patriot Ledger reports.

“They’re pretty versatile and incredible. They are probably a viable way to detect an animal,” he observed. “The optics are already good. You can clearly see the sharks.”

The technology is not without its drawbacks, however, including short battery life, and vulnerabilities regarding weather. In addition, the National Parks Service has restricted the use of drones within park boundaries, which could complicate their use near the Cape Cod National Seashore and the Outer Cape. Seashore Park Superintendent George Price expressed concerns about the local shark population, however, and observed that special permits could be issued to allow the drones to fly.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that quite often sharks are in the surf and probably have been around our swimmers for a real long time,” he observed. “I’d be curious to learn more about what the people in California are doing and what the success rate is.”

Due to the concerns of individual towns and the Parks Service’s ban, Wellfleet Beach Administrator Suzanne Grout Thomas says she considers the use of drones to likely be an effort that will only be deployed sporadically in the region. Support remains, however, and with time, drones may be flying over the beaches of Cape Cod in an effort to detect the region’s famed great white sharks.

[Photo by Ryan Pierse / Getty Images]