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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 560:237-242 (2016)  -  DOI:

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

Jeremy J. Kiszka1,*, Johann Mourier2,3, Kirk Gastrich1, Michael R. Heithaus

1Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, 3000 NE 151st Street, North Miami, FL 33181, USA
2LabEx «CORAIL»—USR 3278 CNRS-EPHE-UPVD, Centre de Recherche Insulaire et Observatoire de l’Environnement (CRIOBE), BP 1013—98 729, Papetoai, Moorea, French Polynesia
3LabEx «CORAIL»—EPHE, PSL Research University, UPVD, CNRS, USR 3278 CRIOBE, 66360 Perpignan, France
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: 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.

KEY WORDS: Elasmobranchs · Distribution · Abundance · Aerial surveys · Unmanned aerial drones

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Cite this article as: Kiszka JJ, Mourier J, Gastrich K, Heithaus MR (2016) Using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to investigate shark and ray densities in a shallow coral lagoon. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 560:237-242.

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