Hundreds of drone videos used to record marine wildlife off the Australian coast have been used by biological researchers to better understand marine wildlife.
The DroneSharkApp, described as a “passionate hobbyist platform” created by Jason Iggleden, films marine life in the waters off Sydney all year round. More than 487,000 TikTok followers and 144,000 Instagram followers regularly watch videos of sharks, whales, rays, fur seals, dolphins and fish.
According to the app’s website, users can receive real-time updates regarding beach conditions, sunrises, sharks getting too close to swimmers, local marine wildlife nearby, clarity water for divers and swimmers, schools of fish for anglers and waves for swimming or surfing.
Three researchers – Vanessa Pirotta, David Hocking and Robert Harcourt – recently used 678 wildlife videos posted on Instagram and evaluated from 432 days of observation, all of which were collected by Iggleden. The results were used to publish an article, “Drone Observations of Marine Life and Human-Wildlife Interactions off Sydney, Australia,” in the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute on March 11.
“Given the extensive effort and multiple records of the presence, behavior and interactions of various species with humans provided by DroneSharkApp, we explored its usefulness in providing biologically meaningful observations of marine wildlife,” the researchers said. .
Pirotta, a wildlife scientist at Macquarie University in Australia, wrote Newsweek saying she first spoke with Iggleden a few years ago about whales. That’s when she and her co-authors saw the potential of drone imagery versus scientific data.
“Our intention was to use available information already provided to the general public, i.e. through Instagram, and see what information that could provide to the scientific world,” Pirotta said. “In other words, we rated DroneSharkApp’s Instagram content [videos]to see if we could provide meaningful biological observations of marine life. As we report, it is.”
The data also helped counter any existing perceptions in society, she added, such as the reputation sharks have had around the world since the movie. Jaws was first released in 1975.
Drone video footage of a total of 94 feeding behaviors or events included 58 involving fur seals, 33 involving dolphins, two with white sharks and one of a humpback whale. The app has documented 101 human-shark interactions, “demonstrating the frequent and mostly harmless overlap between humans and sharks on some of Australia’s busiest beaches”.
The app also provided researchers with multiple sightings of humpback and dwarf minke whales with calves traveling north, which experts said indicated calving was occurring “well south” of the country’s traditional breeding waters. North Queensland.
According to the study, gray nurse sharks were most often seen in close proximity to humans, although they are not widely considered a threat to humans. White sharks, which are more dangerous, have only been sighted three times over a three-year period and only one of those sightings involved a shark-human encounter in the same frame of video footage.
“This confirms that the likelihood of encountering larger, usually offshore species, for example white sharks in this area, is relatively low and corresponds to the locally low number of shark bites and few animals caught in the program. network of sharks fishing in this area”. notes the study.
Iggleden’s TikTok video informing followers of the research paper has been viewed 5.3 million times. It includes various clips highlighting different sea creatures, including a shark he dubs Norman who is identified by a swimmer frantically swinging his arms to clear the scene.
“I’m so proud that all of my hard work has been recognized in the world of science,” Iggleden said in the caption of the video.
the Sydney Morning Herald reported that he had been using his drone to collect images seven days a week for four years “with barely a day off”. He said he had probably spotted hundreds of gray nurse sharks in thousands of hours of footage, giving them names like Norman and others.
But he told the publication there was a bigger meaning behind his intention.
“The whole picture was that I wanted to help people,” he said. “I wanted to create something like a good show…but then talk about emotions and stuff, like, helping people in life.”
His videos are not lost for any of his viewers.
“It really puts into perspective the size of the ocean/this world, and we are just a small piece of it,” one TikToker commented on his video.
“Australian commentary makes it even better,” said another user.
As noted in the article, drones have offered a unique accessibility to researchers and viewers that expand into a new sense of consciousness. It is also acknowledged that the effort of the app “was never intended to be used for science” and that several limitations exist without the contribution of scientists. Without formal advice from scientists, this work comes up against several limitations.
Pirotta said drone technology allows scientists to learn more about marine life in the ocean.
“Citizen science and scientists can work collaboratively to interpret marine life observations to increase our biological understanding of marine wildlife data,” she said. “Sharks are part of natural marine ecosystems and, like other animals, play an important ecological role.”
Harcourt, who is on the conservation technology committee of Macquarie University’s Society for Conservation Biology, wrote to Newsweek that drones are transforming conservation research capabilities because they provide a new perspective in the sky.
“Due to the immense reach of social media, collecting big data can provide observations of rare but important behaviors, such as interspecific interactions or changes in range distribution that are unlikely to go undetected. another way,” Harcourt said.
It is essential when it comes to conservation planning, he said, such as spotting unusual species in areas where they have never been seen before. Or, watch sharks and dolphins feeding cooperatively.
“This document is literally a showcase of some of the diversity of interactions with marine wildlife from a major coastal city, and the document points to ways to systematize and standardize future collaborations,” he said.
Future scientific collaborations may involve approval of animal ethics and scientific licensing, in addition to training and additional inclusion of citizen scientists for the publication protocol.
“Furthermore, exploring social attitudes towards marine life through social media platforms, such as Instagram, can improve our understanding of follower interactions with different species and contribute to the growing field of ‘citizen marine science. “,” said the study. “This can further contribute to beach safety awareness and our understanding of marine life off Sydney.”
Newsweek contacted Iggleden for comment.