Shark spotter warns against relying on drone technology

A SPATE of recent shark attacks on Australia’s east coast has raised the possibility of unmanned drones supplementing or replacing existing fixed-wing aerial patrols.

Bendigo Bank Aerial Patrol general manager Harry Mitchell has said while there might be a future for unmanned drones in shark patrols, it was not here yet.

“There will always be a role for drones, of course, but human judgment is paramount,” Mr Mitchell said. 

The drones are flown remotely by human operators who must keep the equipment in sight, which means pilots would have to travel from beach to beach in order to patrol. 

The hourly cost of the drones is projected to be around $2000, compared to roughly $3000 for helicopter patrols and just $300 an hour for fixed-wing planes. 

However managing director of Perth based company Cyber Technology Chris Mounkley has told WA Today that unmanned aerial vehicles could use cameras with polarising lenses to find sharks unseen by humans. 

The lenses are reported to be able to see six to eight metres below the surface of the water but Mr Mitchell said he doubted the cameras would be that effective.

“We’ve looked at polarising technology in our own trials and there are a lot of factors involved,” he said.

“Light diffusion, debris from estuaries, which is where sharks often congregate…the human eye is still the best tool we’ve got.”

Mr Mitchell said he would be happy to be involved in a consultative role with any government trials of unmanned patrols.

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