TROUBLE IN THE SKY: Drone operators are being urged to avoid flying within 100 metres of whales or risk hefty fines.
TROUBLE IN THE SKY: Drone operators are being urged to avoid flying within 100 metres of whales or risk hefty fines. Matthew Karsten

Whale watchers warned

DRONE operators have been warned to avoid flying too close to whales and other marine life or risk facing hefty fines.

The warning comes after several videos emerged on social media of drone operators flying too close to dolphins and whales.

A NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) spokesperson said drone operators faced fines of up to $880 for individuals or $4400 for commercial flyers.

"The NPWS does receive reports of drone operators flying within the legal approach distances,” the spokesperson said.

"Drones are not permitted to fly any closer to marine mammals than 100 metres under current regulations.

"We have some evidence that smaller marine mammals such as dolphins, seals and smaller whale species do appear to react negatively to drones.

"Unregulated drones could be a major disturbance to whale watchers and we at NPWS strongly support the industry.”

Drone operators are being urged to stay at least 100 metres away from whales and dolphins or risk hefty fines.
Drone operators are being urged to stay at least 100 metres away from whales and dolphins or risk hefty fines. Tammie Jaeger

Marine Expert Elizabeth Hawkins, of Dolphin Research Australia, said drones and other aircraft "can cause quite a disturbance for dolphins and whales”.

"Drones can cause disruptive behavior in their dive times and surface behaviours,” she said.

"A lot of that is also to do with the sound of the drone, the sound will penetrate through the water and it's quite possible the animal won't know where it is or what it is, so that's a large cause of the disturbance.

"Particularly vulnerable groups would be mothers with calves and that's why these regulations are so important, because it's about protecting the animals.”

Ms Hawkins said drones can have similar affects on whales as helicopters, which are required to be flown at least 500 metres away.

"They can have a response that's similar to the way they respond to helicopters, which is quite interesting because you have a much smaller craft,” she said.

"But when there's a shadow coming over them they often have a flight response to that and the sound, so it's really important drones are flown at least 100 metres above whales and dolphins.”

According to the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching, all aircraft, including drones "may cause a disruption to marine life due to their speed, noise, shadow or downdraft.”



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