Guidelines for filming marine mammals says drones must be no closer than 300m

WA’S Parks and Wildlife Service has been telling people not to fly drones within 300m of marine mammals this whale migration season.

The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions provided details of rules around flying drones or remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) in response to questions from Community Newspaper Group.

“The ‘Close Season notice for Marine Mammals’ states that a drone no matter the size cannot fly within 300m of a marine mammal,” the department response said.

“The department has received numerous complaints regarding RPAs interacting with marine mammals and has been educating offenders when notified of this, and those that are using footage commercially have been asked to get a licence.

“Changes in technology are regularly considered and amendments can be made to the close season notice as required.

“The maximum penalty for breaching the close season notice is $10,000.”

No fly zones for whales and dolphins.

The department acknowledged drones were increasingly popular for recreational and commercial use, particularly for filming and photography.

“While both national and State legislation applies to the use of RPAs, the WA legislation is different to that in other jurisdictions,” it said.

“In parks and reserves these craft can pose potential danger to visitors, other air users and operators.

“There are also environmental concerns relating to visual and noise impacts that may affect wildlife as well as the potential risk of fire from combustion engine powered RPA.

“These craft may detract from other visitors’ experiences, places of cultural significance as well as impact on visitor privacy.

“Traditional owners have also raised concerns over the impact of RPAs on cultural values.”

The department said model aircraft, rockets and drones were considered aircraft under the Civil Aviation Regulations 1998.

As a result, under the Conservation and Land Management Regulations 2002, people can only launch, land or make a touch down of such aircraft on land managed by the department’s Parks and Wildlife Service if they have written permission.

The maximum penalty without lawful authority is $1000, although the regulation does not apply to emergency situations.

According to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, helicopters cannot fly within 500m of marine mammals, but drones are classed as other aircraft and therefore can be a minimum of 300m from them.

The general aviation rules say that a person operating aircraft including fixed wing, gliders, hang-gliders, hot air balloons and airships must not fly lower than 300m within a 300m radius of a whale or dolphin.

They should also not approach a whale or dolphin from head on or land on the water to observe whales or dolphins.

People should also avoid flying directly over, or passing the shadow of the aircraft directly over a whale or dolphin, and cease the activity if the whale or dolphin shows signs of disturbance.

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Community Newspaper Group contacted Parks and Wildlife for permission to fly near the whales.

Ongoing studies say no evidence noise from drones disrupts behaviour

Scientific research on the impact of drones and their noise on marine mammals is underway, according to the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

The department said results from studies in 2007, 2010, 2015 and 2016 indicated that there was no evidence of behavioural disruptions in marine mammals exposed to noise caused by low flying drones.

One of those studies was Noise Levels of Multi-Rotor Unmanned Aerial Vehicles with Implications for Potential Under water Impact son Marine Mammals by Fredrik Christiansen, LaiaRojano-Doñate, Peter T.Madsen, and LarsBejder.

“So far no behavioural reactions toward unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been recorded for marine mammals under water,” it said.

“Hence, the acoustic effect of UAVs on marine mammals in water, even when flying less than 10m above the study animals, is likely to be absent or very small, and far less than that of conventional aircrafts.”

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