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Research at St Andrews

Assessing use of and reaction to unmanned aerial systems in gray and harbor seals during breeding and molt in the UK

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Wildlife biology applications of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are extensive. Survey, identification, and measurement using UAS equipped with appropriate sensors can now be added to the suite of techniques available for monitoring animals – here we detail our experiences in using UAS to obtain detailed information from groups of seals, which can be difficult to observe from land. Trial flights to survey grey and harbour seals using a range of different platforms and imaging systems have been carried out with varying success at a number of sites in Scotland over the last two years. The best performing UAS system was determined by site, field situation, and the data required. Our systems routinely allow relative abundance, species, age--class, and individual identity to be obtained from images currently, with measures of body size also obtainable but open to refinement. However, the impacts of UAS on target species can also be variable and should be monitored closely. We found variable responses to UAS flights, likely related to the animals’ experience of previous disturbance.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-113
JournalJournal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2015

    Research areas

  • UAS, Wildlife, Seals, Photo ID, Photogrammetry, Behaviour

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