No need for landing islands to get high-resolution aerial photograph data. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) may facilitate more accurate, human-risk free, and cheaper aerial surveys. UAV systems may not be limited by sea state conditions in the same manner as sightings from manned surveys.
UAV’s operating under autopilot and mounted with GPS and imaging systems have the potential to replace traditional manned aerial surveys. The surveys using manned aircraft have a number of limitations, UAVs has potential to improve the data collected from the survey and eliminate those several limtation:
- Risk of humans – Manned air surveys have the risk of aircraft accidents that can kill the crew when conducting surveys in the air.
- Costs – UAVs can reduce the cost of aerial surveys through lower operating costs, fewer personnel per day (that is, there is no need for long-term observers and refueling), and the potential for surveys of various weather conditions.
- Missed sightings and/or misidentification of animals – Manned aerial surveys depend on (usually four) experienced observers who are capable of correctly identifying marine mammals to species level. This requires significant training. Furthermore, observer bias (proportion of animals visible to the observer but missed) needs to be accounted for in abundance estimate. If UAV imaging systems provide a permanent visual record of sightings of high enough resolution, they should increase the accuracy of detection and identification of species.
- Low resolution of location data – The location of each animal group sighted during manned surveys has error associated with time lag between observers seeing animals and then calling/marking their location, as well as measurement errors inherent in determining the location of the animals that are some distance from the aircraft (trackline). UAV imaging systems will provide an immediate snapshot of the sighting and an accurate GPS location of the image. There is also the potential to take this further and use the detailed flight logs recorded by the UAV system to obtain the GPS location of each animal within the image.
- Ability to survey isolated or inaccessible habitat areas – UAVs do not require an airstrip and can be operated from ships so that they can get through places with dangerous access depending on their range and durability.