Standard Talk (15 mins) Australian Society for Fish Biology Conference 2022

Spot the shark! Using drones to monitor sharks and improve the safety of ocean users at Queensland beaches (#72)

Jonathan D. Mitchell 1 , Tracey Scott-Holland 2 , Jason Argent 3 , Katie Emmert 2 , Paul Butcher 4 , Justin Meager 5 , Michael Mikitis 2
  1. Queensland Government, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Animal Science Queensland, Dutton Park, Brisbane, Qld, Australia
  2. Queensland Government, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Fisheries Queensland, Brisbane, Qld, Australia
  3. Surf Life Saving Queensland, Brisbane, Qld, Australia
  4. New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Fisheries, Coffs Harbour, NSW, Australia
  5. Queensland Government, Department of Environment and Science, Dutton Park, Brisbane, Qld, Australia

The beaches of Southeast Queensland have good water clarity and a high level of year-round visitation, making them an ideal location to test drones for detecting sharks and improving the safety of ocean users. The Queensland SharkSmart drone trial operated drones at five beaches in Southeast Queensland over a 12-month period. Flights occurred on weekends, public holidays and school holidays, covering a 400m transect behind the surf break. Across the five beaches, 3,369 drone flights were conducted and 174 sharks were sighted, including 48 large sharks. Of these, eight bull sharks and one white shark were detected, although no tiger sharks were sighted. Beaches were evacuated on four occasions when large sharks were sighted. The mean shark sighting rate was 3%, with North Stradbroke Island (NSI) having the highest sighting rate (17.9%) and Coolum the lowest (0%). Data analysis indicated that location, the presence of other fauna, season and flight number (a proxy for time of day) were the most important factors influencing shark sightability. Shark sightings were most likely at NSI and Burleigh Beach, possibly because there was a high density of potential shark prey species at the former and because the latter is close to the mouth of a creek, where higher nutrient levels can stimulate greater productivity and attract sharks. Sightability was also higher during summer and for the first flight of the day. This project has demonstrated that drones can be a reliable tool for detecting sharks at some Queensland beaches and improving the safety of ocean users. It is recommended that drones are trialled at other locations throughout Queensland and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and advanced camera technologies (e.g. hyperspectral cameras) are tested to improve the detection of sharks.