Drone technology is taking Northern Territory marine researchers to new heights when it comes to studying coastal dolphins.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Marine Eco System group has been using drones as part of a pilot study into dolphin species found along the coast. They include humpback, snubfin and bottlenose dolphins.
The team, headed up by Dr Carol Palmer, Senior Scientist – Marine Mammals, purchased two drones after receiving funding in 2015.
Since then, the devices have proved to be effective tools in helping the researchers learn more about dolphin populations, health and behaviour in the wild.
Drone technology allows the user to launch the aircraft from a boat and capture high quality photos and video of marine mammals while maintaining a safe and respectful distance. The operator is then able to access live footage on their iPad. This has given the team a real insight into dolphins' behaviour, health and school size. The quality imagery from the drone has also allowed researchers to spot pregnant dolphins or calves within a pod, and even identify injuries and skin diseases on the mammals.
The team will continue to use the drones for the duration of the pilot program, which is expected to run for another year.