DeFINitely Hot: Bzzz...Should I fly that Drone?


Having a closer look on my Instagram feed it becomes clear that photography and videography using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones are trending at the moment. By using this technique we are also able to experience wildlife from a totally different angle, making foraging or socialising behaviour more visible providing great insights into an animal’s ecology. My favourite image so far has been of a killer whale that breached, with the moment it fell back into the water being captured. Or the videos of Norwegian killer whales stunning their prey (Herring) with their flukes by performing a circular movement. All this would have been lost when only being observed horizontally from a boat.

However, it is not all sugar coat and National Geographic…

Whether you are allowed to approach wildlife with a UAV is highly depending on the national laws. In Canada, it is prohibited to bring a drone closer to an animal than 150m. It is always advised to consult with local authorities and, when you are on a commercial tour, with the respective wildlife tour operator whether they prohibit this kind of wildlife photography.

Because, let’s face it, UAV make some annoying noise! Besides other people around you, this may, of course, affect wildlife. We cannot ask animals what they exactly think of drones but indicators that most of them are not very happy with them can be found on Youtube, where videos of wildlife often show avoidance or even aggressive behaviour towards approaching gadgets.

Birds are particularly at risk to be disturbed and also larger mammals such as bears and even elephants showed clear signs of feeling harassed. Because, believe it or not, when you close your eyes it might also be the case that an angry bee colony is coming for you! And some animals (and people!) might react to that sound (especially when you’re allergic to bee’s venom!). Manoeuvring UAV in close proximity and entering personal space may affect privacy ("bzzzz"...). Also for animals which are resting and are then in constant alert. Just like me, when I dropped myself on the beach of a tropical island and being bothered by a constant buzzing sound and the fact, that now my bum would potentially be live at this very moment…Or this one night, when a device hoovered outside my apartment on the 10th floor in central Auckland!

But again, UAV have a great potential to help with scientific research as well with researchers not necessarily being in need to get close to wildlife themselves. However, this only works when the benefits are traded off against the impacts. It is questionable whether devices will be able to capture natural, undisturbed behaviour…

It is very tempting to jump on the UAV train to provide people with spectacular insights of all different kinds of wildlife but it might be the case that animals will have to pay the price for the joy of adding a new perspective to our online photo albums. Are we able to fully enjoy an encounter when we’re busy flying and supervising a camera!?

I know I wouldn't be(e)...