Determining the small-scale movement patterns of marine vertebrates usually requires invasive active acoustic tagging or in-water monitoring, with the inherent behavioural impacts of those techniques. In addition, these techniques rarely allow direct continuous behavioural assessments or the recording of environmental interactions, especially for highly mobile species. Here, we trial a novel method of assessing small-scale movement patterns of marine vertebrates using an unmanned aerial vehicle that could complement longer-term tracking approaches. This approach is unlikely to have behavioural impacts and provides high accuracy and high frequency location data (10 Hz), while subsequently allowing quantitative trajectory analysis. Unmanned aerial vehicle tracking is also relatively low cost compared to single-use acoustic and GPS tags. We tracked 14 sharks for up to 10 min in a shallow lagoon of Heron Island, Australia. Trajectory analysis revealed that Epaulette sharks (Hemiscyllium ocellatum
) displayed sinusoidal movement patterns, while Blacktip Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus
) had more linear trajectories that were similar to those of a Lemon shark (Negaprion acutidens
). Individual shark trajectory patterns and movement speeds were highly variable. Results indicate that Epaulette sharks may be more mobile during diurnal low tides than previously thought. The approach presented here allows the movements and behaviours of marine vertebrates to be analysed at resolutions not previously possible without complex and expensive acoustic arrays. This method would be useful to assess the habitat use and behaviours of sharks and rays in shallow water environments, where they are most likely to interact with humans.
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