Conservation news

Audio: How to use drones without stressing wildlife

On this episode of the podcast we discuss the increasing use of drones by wildlife lovers, researchers, and businesses, how that might be stressing animals out, and how drone hobbyists can make a meaningful contribution to science while avoiding wildlife harassment.

Listen here:

Our guest is Alicia Amerson, a marine biologist, drone user, and science communicator. She tells us why it’s critical to have best practices for drones in place not only to guide hobbyists making videos of whales or birds, but especially before companies like Amazon.com deploy fleets of drones in our skies.

After getting a Master’s degree in marine biodiversity and conservation from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, Amerson spent two seasons on a research project flying drones over mother whales and their calves in Australia.

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, are a hot topic in conservation research these days. They’re used to monitor coral reefs and wildlife for instance, and can actually be used to produce wildlife population counts much more quickly and accurately than traditional methods allow.

But when Amerson returned home to California from Australia, she noticed the use of drones on the coastline was becoming much more common, especially among drone hobbyists and wildlife lovers. She was alarmed: wildlife like seabirds, seals, and sea lions on the California coast are often disturbed by humans, and the drones were just adding another level of disturbance. That’s when Amerson convened a group of experts to develop best practices for drone pilots and subsequently founded Alimosphere, a company that works with conservationists, drone entrepreneurs, and outdoor enthusiasts to reduce drone disturbances of wildlife and promote the use of drones for conservation research.

During our conversation, Amerson referenced a recent Mongabay commentary that laments the fact that the media often only becomes interested in wildlife conservation stories when a species has gone extinct or is nearing extinction.

Amerson says that she doesn’t want a similar scenario to play out regarding the impacts of drones on wildlife:

“I want to hit the panic button and create policy” before we have drone-based delivery services by companies like Amazon and Uber “and look and collect data to make sure that we understand what populations are using the skies before we release all of these drones into our world. And so you have to create best practices and policies before all this really gets out of control.”

Here’s this episode’s top news:

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A group of adult humpback whales photographed by a drone. Photo Credit: Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit.

Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001

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