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Permitting for Scientific Research Using Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Many government and private researchers are using small unmanned aircraft systems—also called drones—to study and observe marine mammals and other protected species. Researchers may only use UAS to conduct scientific research on protected species if the proper permits and authorizations are secured.

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A North Atlantic right whale with propeller scars Right whale #3853 swimming north offshore of South Carolina on Jan. 20, 2011 with a series of fresh propeller wounds running across its back. The whale was observed 5 days previously offshore of Georgia without propeller wounds. It is unknown whether the whale survived its wounds or not, as it has not been re-sighted since. Vessel collisions are a leading cause of right whale mortality. Credit: EcoHealth Alliance (NOAA permit #594-1759).
Photograph from the North Atlantic right whale Catalog #3560 of "Snow Cone," a North Atlantic right whale sighted December 2, 2021 that was entangled in gear and with a new calf. Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission taken under NOAA permit 20556. North Atlantic right whale Catalog #3560 ‘Snow Cone’ sighted December 2, 2021 entangled and with a new calf. Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission taken under NOAA permit 20556.
Galv_loggerhead_turtle_t._moore_noaa_via_wikimedia_750_500.png Loggerhead turtle. Credit: T. Moore (CC0 1.0)
NorthPacificrightwhale_smudgy.jpg North Pacific right whale #87 also known as “Smudgy” interacts with a log floating on the water. There are only around 30 individuals in the eastern population, so to spot a North Pacific right whale is rare and to see one interacting with a log in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. NOAA Fisheries permit 782-1719.