Pilots warned to keep drones clear of whales

Tayler Neale and Jessica CuthbertAlbany Advertiser

With the whale watching season in full flight in Albany the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions is warning drone photographers to keep their distance.

Social media is laced with breathtaking images from above of the majestic creatures; however, State Government regulation prohibits remotely piloted aircraft from flying within 300m of marine wildlife.

CASA released this guideline for aircraft and drones flying above whales.
Camera IconCASA released this guideline for aircraft and drones flying above whales.

A DBCA spokeswoman said they had received several complaints in relation to drones.

“The Close Season Notice for Marine Mammals states that a drone no matter the size cannot fly within 300m of a marine mammal,” she said.

“The department has received numerous complaints regarding RPAs interacting with marine mammals and has been educating offenders when notified of this, and those that are using footage commercially have been asked to get a licence.

“The maximum penalty for breaching the close season notice is $10,000.”

The author of the featured photo, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he was unaware of the regulations.

“I had no idea there were such restrictions surrounding the use of drones and flying near whales; I will not be doing that again,” he said.

“I don’t get how a small drone is classified the same as a helicopter in the exclusion zones for flying near whales, they have far less of an impact and should maybe have a smaller exclusion zone to capture images.”

Albany Aerial Imaging owner Brad Harkup said he believed there was scope to change the laws.

“I don’t agree with what’s currently in place but laws are laws; I choose not to film at the moment,” he said.

“They could certainly look at changing it to something similar to the distances required for whale-watching boats.”

The spokeswoman also indicated that use of drones was not allowed in national parks and reserves without written permission from the department.

“In parks and reserves these craft can pose potential danger to visitors, other air users and operators,” she said.

“There are also environmental concerns relating to visual and noise impacts that may affect wildlife as well as the potential risk of fire from combustion engine powered RPA.

“These craft may detract from other visitors’ experiences, places of cultural significance as well as impact on visitor privacy.”

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