SYDNEY, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- Australian researchers on Thursday said a new way to track sharks in shallow waters using drones could increase the safety of swimmers and surfers, amid a rise in encounters with the top marine predators.
The movement-tracking method using unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology provides a cost-effective and non-invasive option to gather data that are otherwise difficult to obtain, University of Newcastle marine ecologist and project leader Dr. Vincent Raoult said in a statement.
"A slow rise in the number of global shark-human interactions has led to calls for a greater understanding of shark behavior in areas where these encounters are likely to occur," said Raoult.
"Currently, researchers rely on acoustic or satellite tags to gather movement data on sharks and other marine vertebrates. These methods are expensive, cause stress to the animals and only capture environmental factors such as depth and temperature.
"UAV technology offers exciting potential to further explore the way marine vertebrates use areas such as lagoons or shallow coastal areas and, in doing so, assist with the management of these animals."
The study has so far tracked sharks at Heron Island on the iconic Great Barrier Reef, including the Epaulette and Blacktip Reef species, said the researchers. They used the drones to monitor the sharks in real time, analyzing the recorded footage in more detail after each event.
Movement and speed were calculated at multiple times per second using the onboard global positioning system in the drones, with significantly greater accuracy than acoustic tracking, they said. The findings were published in peer-reviewed journal Drones.
Observations of natural feeding events suggested that the approach "might be a great tool to learn more about natural feeding behaviors as sharks did not appear to be bothered by the drone", said Raoult.
"Assessing this in real time, in combination with other techniques like acoustic tagging and existing geo-referenced habitats, will enable researchers to infer immediate relationships between habitat and behavior."
The study demonstrated that drone-based tracking can be a tool for understanding and predicting movement and behavior patterns on a larger scale and for a wide range of marine species, he said.
"These understandings could inform strategies to help prevent shark attacks from species typically involved with incidences of human interaction, such as Great Whites and Bull Sharks."