Life Tech Drone operators warned to steer well clear of migrating whales

Drone operators warned to steer well clear of migrating whales

Drone over whale
Only operators with correct permits are allowed to go within whale flight exclusion zones. Photo: Murdoch University/ABC
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As annual whale migrations continue around Australia, you might be tempted to fly your drone over these majestic mammals for a photo – but don’t.

“From May till October we have this unique migration of southern right whales and humpbacks along the south coast,” Chris Thomas from the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) said.

“It’s a nature-based tourism growth area.

“Everyone wants to enjoy the whales.”

But people also want to capture memories of seeing the whales with a photograph.

With Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) laws allowing drones to carry high-quality cameras, Mr Thomas said they were seeing a big increase in their use this year.

“We are seeing them pop up in national parks and marine parks, and they are the areas we are concerned about,” he said.

“We don’t want to distract or distress those whales while they are here to breed and give birth.

“We also don’t want people’s experience of the whales to be aggravated by buzzing noises and drones hooping all over the place.”

Have you got the right permit?

CASA flight restrictions over whales
Drones are treated the same as helicopters for whale zone exclusions. Photo: Commonwealth Government

Most drone users are unaware of the permit system in place to fly in parks and near animals, and there are fines for those who ignore the rules.

Though most operators were usually cautioned, Mr Thomas said DEWNR could issue on-the-spot fines of $135.

There is a 500-metre exclusion zone around whales for helicopters.

And according to CASA, multi-rotor drones are classified as helicopters.

“I’m sure we will have infringements over this winter, but I hope they don’t creep up,” Mr Thomas said.

Just enjoy the moment

He said although it was tempting to use a drone for nature filming and photography, he believed most people missed out on the best of the encounter by being too caught up flying.

“They can distract people from enjoying nature and the experience,” Mr Thomas said.

“There’s already oodles of footage online, so you don’t have to go and source it for yourself.”

But for those who still wanted to source their own images, Mr Thomas advised they get the right permit.

“We’re not saying people can’t do it, we are just saying if they are going to do it they have to do it in the right way for the benefit of them and the whales.

“Enjoy the whales for the beauty and the majesty of them, just don’t disturb them.”