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Say hello to the "Little Ripper", Australia's newest shark spotting drone. Photo: Westpac

Say hello to the “Little Ripper”, Australia’s newest shark spotting drone. Photo: Westpac


The Inertia

Australia is trying new options in the war against sharks… and they’re not killing them this time. Australia’s shark problem is a very divisive subject. There are two sides of the coin, at least when it comes to the internet. I suspect most of the middle-of-the-roaders don’t comment, but–and this is the nature of internet comment boards–the most excitable from either end of the spectrum feel compelled to spew their vitriol through through their keyboards.

There are lots of surfers in Australia, and there are also lots of sharks. That, of course, is a problem, because people get bitten a lot. What to do about it, though, isn’t so simple. Culling is dumb, from my perspective. Read why here. There are some that want to get rid of them and be done with it. Read about that here. But there has to be a better way… and it looks like there is.

At the end of February, Westpac, the sponsor of Australia’s Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Services, announced that they are launching drones to detect sharks near swimmers and surfers, as well as help in search and rescue operations.

The drone they’re using isn’t exactly run-of-the-mill. It’s a long range mini-helicopter that runs on batteries, capable of airdropping something called ULB Life Saving Pods to people that have run into trouble. The pods carry floatation devices, shark repellent and medical equipment.

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To start, the trial period will happen in New South Wales, specifically along Newcastle, Hawkes Nest, and Byron Bay. “This technology has the potential to improve the way our emergency services respond when people find themselves in trouble,” said NSW Premier Mike Baird.

Last year, the government of New South Wales decided it would throw nearly $12 million US dollars at the shark problem. The strategy includes smart buoys that use something similar to facial recognition to spot sharks and alert life savers in the area via their phones, along with drones.

With any luck, the project will prove to be successful, because as scary as they are, we need sharks in the ocean.

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