Researchers using drones to track sharks

BEAUFORT, NC (WNCT) – It’s getting to be that time of year again when all that was learned in Shark Week might become relevant again.

More attention will be displayed after last year’s incidents. Sharks attacked eight people on the coast all within a small time frame.

To keep that from happening again, locally-based researchers might look to the skies for answers. In order to track sharks, those researchers are looking to use drones. So, in years to come, the recorded number of shark attacks is zero.

Assistant professor David Johnston with Duke’s Marine Lab is following bonnet head sharks with the use of drones. Johnston’s team spent the past year conducting experiments in the coastal waterways. They said drone technology can spot a decoy shark and might be able to spot a real one.

“It’s hard for us to be able to predict where the sharks are going to be, and to be able to do this in a scientific manner, a controlled manner, what we’ve done is worked with our colleagues at united UNC to develop shark decoys,” said Johnston.

Johnston also added that understanding the ecology of a shark’s habitat factors into the research. If we know where the sharks will be, it will make it easier for the drones to find them.

“We have researchers go out place the decoys in the habitats and then we conduct a series of drone flights over those to be able to image them, and then we can come back into the lab and look through the pictures and see where we detected the decoys and where we didn’t,” said Johnston.

The North Carolina Aquariums are putting up funding for these experiments right in the Beaufort area for now, but Johnson expects for the experiments to expand to other environments.

As far as seeing these drones on beaches anytime soon, Johnston said it’ll take time.

“You don’t want to be able to start using this kind of new technology without understanding how well it works.”

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