Using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to investigate shark and ray densities in a shallow coral lagoon

Jeremy J. Kiszka*, Johann Mourier, Kirk Gastrich, Michael R. Heithaus

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Citations (Scopus)


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being increasingly used in studies of marine fauna. Here, we tested the use of a UAV (DJI Phantom II®) to assess fine-scale variation in densities of 2 elasmobranchs (blacktip reef sharks Carcharhinus melanopterus and pink whiprays Himantura fai) on reef systems off Moorea (French Polynesia). We flew parallel transects designed to sample reef habitats (fringing, channel and sandflat habitats) across 2 survey blocks. Block 1 included a shark and ray provisioning site with potentially higher elasmobranch densities, whereas Block 2 most likely had lower densities with no provisioning activities. Across 10 survey days in July 2014, we flew 3 transects (400 m) within each survey block (n = 60 total transect passes). As expected, densities (animals ha-1) were significantly higher in Block 1 than in Block 2, particularly where provisioning activities occur. Differences between habitats surveyed were also found. Our study provides the first direct estimates of shark and ray densities in coral-reef ecosystems and demonstrates that UAVs can produce important fishery-independent data for elasmobranchs, particularly in shallow-water habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-242
Number of pages6
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • abundance
  • aerial surveys
  • distribution
  • elasmobranchs
  • unmanned aerial drones
  • Unmanned aerial drones
  • Elasmobranchs
  • Distribution
  • Abundance
  • Aerial surveys


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