Drones and Marine Mammals in Svalbard (DAMMS)


Svalbards miljøvernfond har gitt støtte til et prosjekt som har sett på hvordan marint dyreliv reagerer på droner.


The use of drones has risen exponentially in recent years, following an increasingly widespread use among hobbyists and researchers, although their effects on wildlife behaviour are not always well known. Our project studied the impact of drones on different species of arctic marine mammals, including walruses, polar bears, belugas and harbour seals in Svalbard, in order to provide management advice to the local authorities.


Over the course of several field expeditions, the team used a range of drone models, and tested different approach strategies and flight altitudes. We also measured the sound emitted by the drones to help us evaluate the impact of different type of flights on wildlife. Overall, harbour seals reacted to the drones from a distance of 80 m, while walruses reacted when flying closer than 50 m. Flying manually, especially overflying or descending over the animals, led to noisier flights and caused more disturbance than when flying in automatic mode. Polar bears noticed the drones at distances over 300 m, especially with calm weather conditions, and belugas reacted strongly when approaching the pods from the front, or at altitudes below 15 m.


We recommend following trajectories that can be predicted by the animals, such as straight-line or circular paths, and using flight planner applications in order to minimise abrupt noises. Finally, events that took place and conditions prior to a flight, such as the encounter of a predator, may directly influence how wildlife reacts to drones, so we advise drone pilots to follow a precautionary principle.