Footage from shark drones.
Footage from shark drones.

Why surfers don’t trust drones to save them from sharks

SOME of the people most at risk of shark attacks, surfers, are not convinced of the effectiveness of drones in preventing encounters, new research has found.

But the majority of beach users do support the use of drones at our beaches, demonstrating a "social licence" for their use in future shark management strategies.

The research was done by Southern Cross University's Debra Stokes, Kirin Apps, Paul Butcher (who also works for the Department of Primary Industries), Betty Weiler, Hanabeth Luke and Andrew Colefax.


Southern Cross University researchers Debra Stokes and Andrew Colefax.
Southern Cross University researchers Debra Stokes and Andrew Colefax.


They surveyed more than 400 people to assess beach-user perceptions and attitudes toward drones on NSW beaches as a shark surveillance tool.

"We found the use of drones on coastal beaches was accepted by the majority of people surveyed (88 per cent) due to perceptions of reduced impact on sharks, and the relatively low cost," the researchers explained.

"Drone surveillance was also the preferred approach for bather protection overall.

"Arguably the most vulnerable beach-user group for a shark bite incident, surfers, claimed the highest level of awareness of the use of drones for shark surveillance, but also indicated lower confidence in their utility compared to other groups."

Lead researcher Dr Debra Stokes, from SCU's School of Environment, Science and Engineering, said surfers didn't "quite believe in the effectiveness" of drones.


Sharks circle around a bait ball.
Sharks circle around a bait ball.


"Surfers are more likely to choose a beach based on the swell and conditions, not whether there is a drone in operation," she said.

A quarter of surfers surveyed said they thought drones had a "low" or "very low" ability to prevent shark attacks.

Surfers were also "significantly less confident" in the ability of the drone's camera to "see into the water" or to find "sharks of concern".

Despite the views of surfers, Dr Stokes said the research team had concluded the use of drones had a "social licence".

"That was the main goal, to get a handle on what people really think about drones," she said.

"People see drones as less invasive, they don't harm marine life and they are cost effective while also keeping people safe.

"We still had around 10 per cent that strongly supported shark nets or drumlines."

At the other end of the scale, about 20 per cent didn't want any intervention.

Dr Stokes said the sentiment was that beach-users were entering the sharks' territory, and people needed to accept the risk and take personal responsibility.

She also said the researchers hoped their work would help to guide the development of any future shark management strategy.