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San Diego drone pilot using footage to help conserve whales

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Posted at 6:07 PM, Feb 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-01 21:11:09-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Drones are producing some of the most captivating footage of Mother Nature off our coasts.

FAA Licensed drone pilot and wildlife photographer Domenic Biagini says the value this footage provides is far more than a pretty picture.

“Through some of the footage I’ve been able to share and reach literal millions of people, all the comments I see are so heartwarming because it’s all so positive, about we have to protect our oceans, we have to protect these animals. The more you make them feel something, the more likely you are to influence change," said Biagini.

By connecting people around the world to whales, he hopes to inspire conservation.

“These animals, while some here are doing much better, some still struggle, we're having a lot of fishing gear entanglements," he says.

Biagini advocates for the use of drones in research and photography. He believes they are the least-invasive way to observe the animals because they're used from a distance.

"We can now position our boat to where we are never cutting the animal off; we're always giving it space."

He was recently invited by the American Cetacean Society to give a lecture on using drones for good, held at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

Biagini believes the public can contribute to capturing invaluable footage, as long as it's done responsibly.

“Personally I wish everyone had to take the same course I did to fly commercially to fly recreationally because there’s so many things people do that are breaking the law, and they don’t realize it," said Biagini. “The biggest thing I would say is understand what the FAA laws are for flying drones and if those laws are followed, it’s a great tool for using with these marine mammals."

As for whether drone sounds impact whales, Biagini says in his hundreds of trips he's never observed a whale or dolphin acknowledge the drone. He's also encouraged by a study finding drone sound doesn't travel well from air to water and is below the known auditory threshold of dolphins and whales.

“I always preface every talk I give on this subject by saying if there was a problem I wouldn’t do it. I love these animals, the reason I do this is I want people to love these animals," he said.

For those planning to film whales with drones, Biagini suggests flying 50 feet above the water and abiding by the Marine Mammal Protection Act guidelines mandating boats are kept 100 yards from the animals.

He does not recommend drone novices attempt to film on the water before ample practice on land and also cautions against using drones to film land mammals like seals and sea lions.