Attention owners of unmanned aerial vehicles (aka, drones) interested in filming orcas off the coast of Washington: keep your distance. That's the message being sent by officials from the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife after ticketing two drone pilots $1,025 each for getting too close to a pod of killer whales.
According to KIROTV in Seattle, the two pilots were fined in separate incidents on Aug. 16 involving an aerial drone within 10 yards of a pod of orcas. Under Washington state law, no vessel or object of any manner is permitted within 200 yards " of a southern resident orca whale." Exceptions are made for authorized scientific research, federal vessels and rescue operations.
One of the men fined, Douglas Shih of Aerial Photography Seattle, told the station that he never intended to "hurt or distract" the orcas. He later uploaded a video of the offense to YouTube.
In a first-of-its-kind study released earlier this month, scientists flew drones to within 33 feet of bears tagged with heart sensors. While the bears didn't act bothered by the drones, their heart rates went up significantly — with one bear's heart rate leaping from 39 to 162 beats a minute. The news comes as conservation organizations all over the world are leveraging drones to help monitor and protect endangered species.
"I don't doubt that these bears, that many species, could habituate to UAVs," study leader Mark Ditmer told NatGeo. "But if you have an endangered species or animals sensitive to human interference, we could push them beyond a threshold. If in the future there are lots of UAVs out there, acute stress could become more chronic. And that can lead to a lot of problems."