Shark-Seeking Drones To Deploy At Australia’s Beaches

Beach-goers in Australia’s state of New South Wales (NSW) will see a few new toys come this December, including shark-seeking drones. The unmanned flying machines are part of a high-tech, environmentally-friendly campaign against the rising number of shark attacks. If the drones are successful, their use might go global.

Australia’s Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair, announced a shark attack prevention program “not seen anywhere else in the world” on Sunday.

Drones will patrol popular swimming spots around the state, which includes the city of Sydney, and provide real-time visual surveillance. The drones are part of a A$16 million ($11.5 million USD) effort to combat the rise of shark attacks.

It’s not the first time drones have been used to keep tabs on the potentially dangerous animals. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, early in 2015. juvenile great white sharks were spotted off the coast of California near Long Beach.

Instead of sending out humans to monitor the sharks, quadcopter drones were deployed.

It was a success.

Although no great white shark had ever been spotted in that area before, the drones were able to spot dozens. They identified them as juveniles, too young to be a real threat to humans, but it appears that other beach locales took notice.

A similar program started in Cape Cod, and now it seems the idea has moved across the Pacific.

Still, drones are only one technology being tested by the NSW government. According to Discovery News, officials will also step up the tagging of local sharks. Those tags will be monitored by 20 new listening stations that will utilize 4G technology.

The tagging and listening stations will ultimately lead to a new app, called SharkSmart, that will provide real-time information about the whereabouts of sharks.

Drones will also share the sky with additional helicopter surveillance. The government is also planning an educational campaign on sharks for the public.

The new policy comes after a fierce backlash to the government’s use of “catch and kill” tactics, which environmentalists decried as flawed.

One of the many protests against the culling of sharks near Australias coast, a policy that eventually stopped. [Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images]
Under the previous policy, baited hooks were connected to floating buoys, which would then catch the animals. If the sharks were sufficiently large enough to be a public risk, they were killed.

The program led to the capture of 170 sharks (mostly tiger sharks). Out of those, about 50 were destroyed.

In the end, the program did not improve public safety, but did harm the environment, according to environmentalists.

Still, a sound shark policy is more necessary now than ever before. Although fatalities are rare, the amount of attacks is increasing, with 13 attacks this year, leading to seven people injured and one dead.

Shelly Beach closed after Tadashi Nakahara was killed in a shark attack on February 10th. [Image Credit: Chris Hyde/Getty Images]
According to expert Dr. David Powter, speaking to the BBC, the ocean currents might be to blame.

“You’re getting the movement of those currents [which] bring the bait fish. The larger fish then follow the bait fish – and then the predators follow. And that is probably why we are having these spikes from time to time.”

The current spike is occurring even though shark numbers are at a record low. After consultations with experts from around the world, the government agreed that more had to be done to protect human life and the beach-based tourist economy.

Niall Blair explained, “we are proud to be the first jurisdiction anywhere in the world to adopt an integrated approach toward keeping our beaches safe,” in the plan’s announcement.

In addition to drones patrolling the beaches, researchers will be studying other novel technologies for shark deterrence, including electric and magnetic barriers and flexible plastic nets.

[Image Credit: Ian Waldie/Getty Images]