Cardigan Bay Monitoring takes to the Air
In recent years, the Sea Watch team have flown a drone opportunistically from our survey vessel in Cardigan Bay, West Wales. The flights were successful and, in 2019, funded by the John Spedan Lewis Foundation, we shall be testing the use of a drone to enhance our monitoring of the bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay.
The drone camera ‘sees’ dolphins deeper in the water than we can from the boat. This allows us to observe for longer how dolphins are behaving – interacting with each other, with prey, and with other sea users. When photographed from directly above, the size of the dolphins can also be measured more accurately than from a boat. This may allow us to detect pregnant females and, over time, provide an indication of the health of individuals within the dolphin population, and the growth of young ones.
During the flights in 2019, we shall be testing the value of the drone for:
- Its use in photo ID of dolphin individuals that are normally too shy of humans to come close enough to the boat
- Providing footage that can give insights into the behaviour of dolphins, how they interact with each other and also with other sea users such as boats
- Taking measurements of dolphins as an indication of their welfare, to detect pregnant females, or track the growth of young ones
- Taking high quality video imagery of the dolphin community in Cardigan Bay and if possible of our adopted dolphins.
In addition, during this research programme we shall be looking to see whether the dolphins react to the drone itself and, if so, under what conditions. We shall use our experiences to develop and publish a set of procedures designed to allow dolphin-friendly drone use.
We are hoping that the drone will prove a successful tool in generating exciting new data sets for our monitoring of the bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay – data that will complement our existing monitoring programme and offer new insights into these fascinating animals.