‘Lifeguard drones’ deployed to help prevent shark attacks in Western Australia
August 1, 2020
Authorities in Australia have started deploying shark-spotting drones at popular beaches which have already led to the evacuations of two school groups swimming near an eight-foot creature.
The drones – painted in red-and-yellow stripes to match the well-known uniform of Australia’s life guards – are being used at five beaches across Perth in the state of Western Australia, where there has been a spate of shark attacks in recent years.
The state’s life guard association said the drones have been deployed for two weeks and have already come to the aid of beachgoers.
Chris Peck, from Surf Life Saving Western Australia, said a drone spotted a shark on two occasions at Secret Harbour, a beach in the south of Perth.
The most recent sighting was of an eight-foot shark on Monday, though the species was not identified.
"Our drone patrol at Secret Harbour during a routine patrol has picked up a shark off the back of a break on Monday morning," Mr Peck told Fairfax Media.
"It was about … 100 metres off-shore, swimming in a zig-zag pattern. There were about 20 surfers in the water at the time and two school groups with about 30 kids in each. So the drone is a great benefit from a localised surveillance perspective… we’re able to take immediate action."
A separate sighting on December 6 of a ten-foot shark led to the evacuation of surfers and a school group.
When a shark is spotted and deemed dangerous, life guards evacuate the beach and then monitor the creature to ensure it moves safely out to sea before allowing swimmers to return.
Australian authorities have grappled with finding ways to make beaches safer without unnecessarily endangering marine life.
A parliamentary inquiry this week said states which use shark nets should phase them out in favour of alternatives such as sonar technology and drones.
The report said there had been 47 fatal attacks in the past 50 years, noting that people were almost 100 times more likely to die from drowning.
"[Technology] is rapidly developing in terms of … deterrence devices, and along with drones and phone apps this allows us to set a timeline for the full withdrawal of shark nets around the country," said Peter Whish-Wilson, the Greens MP who chaired the inquiry.
But the inquiry’s dissenting MPs said nets had improved safety and there had been just one death at the roughly 85 beaches protected by nets.