Date of Award

Summer 5-5-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science - Biology



First Advisor

Dr. Jason Bruck


Uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) are becoming a standard tool in the study of cetaceans, however, a comparative assessment of animal responses to UAS has not been established to gauge the most effective systems for cetacean study. We utilized Dolphin Quest Bermuda’s eleven bottlenose dolphins as subjects for such an investigation taking place over five weeks in 2022 and five weeks in 2023. The dolphins were evaluated for investigative behavioral responses to six off-the-shelf UAS types and a custom fixed wing system. Each UAS was flown in decreasing height vertically above the main dolphin lagoon to evaluate dolphin behavioral responses in terms of number of looks and duration of submersion. We evaluated dolphin responses to UASs as a function of UAS type, height, and flight number. Results indicated that UASs with a large visual and noise profile generated high behavioral responses from the dolphins. In terms of UAS height, dolphin submersion duration decreases as height decreases, but that individual subject seems to be a strong overall predictor of responses. Also, we found evidence for habituation to the UASs over successive flights. Together these data support the idea that dolphins are best studied with small rotary UAS consistently in a population over time to allow for habituation.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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