Fisheries scientists are using a new method for surveying the southern edge of
the Bering Sea ice pack for seals as they both move north. A remote-controlled,
pilotless drone is being flown off the deck of the NOAA research vessel
McArthur II. The ship was recently in Kodiak, before heading to the
Bering Sea and launching the Scan Eagle, a 40-pound drone with a 10-foot
wingspan. It's not unlike the surveillance drones being used by the military in
the Middle East.
the leader for the Polar Ecosystem Program at National Marine Mammal Laboratory
in Seattle, says the price of remote-controlled drones has fallen, while
increasing the margin of safety for wildlife managers:
-- (Drone 1 45 sec "I'd
say the capabilities ... to wildlife management.")
Eagle is owned and operated by the University of Alaska, and was built by a
subsidiary of Boeing.
and the university's Institute for Arctic Research will use the still and video
images taken by the Scan Eagle during a month-long test, to determine if drones
can be used to estimate the number and location of spotted, bearded, and ringed
seals on the ice pack.
Angliss, the Deputy Director of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, says
there is any number of missions for which NOAA could use drones like the Scan
-- (Drone 2 26 sec "Just
in a broader perspective ... kind of civilian projects.")
the same technology could be used in fisheries enforcement, keeping an
unblinking eye on the fishing grounds.
The cost of
the drone itself is about 40-thousand dollars, though the remote control,
launch and retrieval equipment are extra. Boveng says video signals from the
Scan Eagle are sent back to scientists via radio, though the higher resolution
digital still images must be downloaded once the drone returns to the ship.
The FAA is
currently limiting the flights of the Scan Eagle to within five miles of the
research vessel, but as soon as the technology is proven, it can roam farther.
Eagle can fly for about 20 hours on two gallons of fuel, at up to 75 miles per
hour, after being launched by a pneumatic catapult. To land, hooks on the
drone's wings catch a line hung from a crane aboard the McArthur II.
gathered this month will help NOAA to understand seal habitat better, and gauge
their sensitivity to climate change.