Drones deployed by marine scientist to monitor sharks along Northern NSW beaches
Marine scientists monitoring the waters along the Northern New South Wales coastline say the threat of sharks is overblown and they have the data to prove it.
The National Marine Science Centre at Southern Cross University and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) collected two years' worth of drone footage as part of the State Government's Shark Management Strategy.
Professor Brendan Kelaher and his team tracked marine wildlife at locations known for shark bite incidents including Lennox Head, Ballina, Byron Bay and Evans Head.
To their delight, they found a thriving and vibrant marine ecosystem and very few "dangerous sharks" among the estimated 4,000 large marine animals they counted.
"One of the outcomes of our data ... we know it's up to 135 times more likely to be a dolphin, which is really good news," Mr Kelaher said.
"Sharks are a little few and far between and what we saw was this other diverse wildlife, which we're excited about."
The drone cameras captured scenes of whales coming close to shore to feed and schools of dolphins.
One of the most breathtaking sights, Mr Kelaher said, were fevers of cownose rays congregating near surfers in complex geometric patterns.
Less common were sharks, which typically took hundreds of flights before one was spotted.
"I would say that the shark bite incidents are incredibly rare and they're incredibly unlucky, but they do still happen," Mr Kelaher said.
"If you listen to a lot of people, you'd believe there's lots and lots of sharks — but the reality is there's lots and lots of dolphins."
Southern Cross University will continue with the drone monitoring program, which the professor said has been a gamechanger.
"Previously we could just have a bit of an inkling of what went on from top of the water," Mr Kelaher said.
"Drones have allowed us to be this eye in the sky that's provided a new way of looking at what's going on in our marine environment.
"It's going to be really important for ensuring the long term sustainability of these really important wildlife populations."
// LUISA RUBBO
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