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Using teamwork and technology to monitor Scottish seas

Following a very successful large whale disentanglement workshop in Ullapool in late October, a group of Scottish Entanglement Alliance (SEA) project partners completed a two-day drone operator training course. This training was delivered by Brian Taggart and Matt Pickett of the US-based Oceans Unmanned, a non-profit organisation founded to harness the power of technology to address some of the challenges our marine environment face, including marine animal entanglement.

Representatives from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS), the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF), the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) successfully completed the course in Environmentally Conscious Operations of drones to protect and limit disturbances to marine wildlife during research and monitoring projects.

SEA project partners Haydn Mackenzie, Bally Philp, Becky Dudley, Ellie MacLennan, Pippa Garrard and Pippa Low who successfully completed the drone training course. Image credit: Ellie MacLennan.


In recent years Oceans Unmanned have been working on an initiative called the freeFLY program, designed to provide aerial support for large whale entanglement response efforts. By including drones in entanglement monitoring and disentanglement response efforts, responders are now able to track free-swimming whales and assess entanglement configurations remotely, decreasing the interactions between responders and entangled animals and increasing the safety of all involved.

Drones have been used to support several successful disentanglements in Hawaii, California and this incident involving a humpback whale entangled in pot gear in Alaska. Image credit: Andy Dietrick.


During the two-day course SEA participants practiced various manoeuvres including safe take-offs and landings from shore, before taking to the water to practise these new skills in a more challenging environment.

Matt Pickett of Oceans Unmanned and Bally Philp of SCFF practicing some land-based drone launches. Image credit: Oceans Unmanned.

Pippa Garrard of HWDT and Noel Hawkins of BDMLR practise their piloting skills over water. Image credit: Pippa Garrard.


Nick McCaffrey, a drone operator based in Shetland also attended the training event and shared his expertise and experience in the use and value of drones in remote areas to capture footage of both our resident and visiting marine mammals, including these two humpback whales seen off Lerwick this weekend.

To support the continued work of SEA and assist in future marine environmental monitoring and disentanglement attempts in Scottish waters, Oceans Unmanned generously donated two drone kits to the project.

The drone kits generously donated by Oceans Unmanned to the SEA project. Image credit: Oceans Unmanned.

SEA project partners are very grateful to Matt and Brian of Oceans Unmanned for their time, expertise, and generous donations of kit, and the contribution this will make to broadening our knowledge base of the entanglement issue in Scottish waters.

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