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Shark or dolphin? The research drone has the answer

RELAX – the dreadful dark shadow you see in the water is probably not a shark.

This is a reassuring report by Professor Brendan Kelaher of the University of Southern Cross, which revealed that visitors to the beach are 135 times more likely to encounter a dolphin than a shark.

And he should know.

Professor Kelaher and his team from the National Marine Science Center and the NSW Primary Industry Department have been using drones to track our beaches over the past three years as part of the NSW Shark Management Strategy.

"Our extensive data suggests that it is up to 135 times more likely to be a dolphin than a shark," he said.

"But if you are interested, it is better to get out of the water."

He said the SCU team carefully analyzed the shot from the drones and counted more than 4100 large marine animals.

"In addition to contributing to beach security, our drone program quantified the diverse marine wilderness of our beaches," said Professor Kelaher.

"Our beaches provide habitat for stunning marine animals, including dolphins, sharks, rays, turtles, seabirds, wild game and occasional whales.

"Over the past three years, we have recorded footage of feverish rays over 100 animals, whales feeding fished baits in shallow and incredible walks between sharks, rays, and dolphins."

Professor Kelaher said the results can provide some comfort to ocean users.

"We see potentially dangerous sharks in shallow areas, but our data shows that they are much less common than people would believe," he said.

"Our oceans are full of life, and the fact that you regularly see dolphins simply on the beach is fantastic.

"We are really happy to have such a wonderful marine environment at your fingertips."

He said these findings confirm that emerging drone technology can make a significant contribution to the environmental information that is needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of beach ecosystems.

The results were published online at the 70th edition of the magazine Research of sea and fresh water.

If you've met a shark or dolphin in the ocean, send us your photos or comments to

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