We all know that drones can be annoying if you're a pilot, a national park visitor, or the Japanese prime minister. But what if you're a bear? Researchers led by the University of Minnesota's Mark Ditmer have attempted to answer that question in a study published in Current Biology, concerned by the possibility that the rising usage of drones in research and recreation could cause undue stress to wildlife.
To be clear, this was not the most rigorous of studies. The researchers buzzed a small quadcopter around four American black bears, all of whom were wearing collars equipped with GPS and heart rate trackers. In 17 flights, there was only one occasion where a bear seemed to change its behavior in response to the drone.
However, every one of those flights saw the bears' heart rates increase — in one case by as much as 123 bpm, and also for another bear that was hibernating. The heart rates usually returned to normal resting pace soon after the drone finished its flight. In short, the bears didn't often exhibit behavioral changes, but always showed physiological responses.
"It has long been established that low-altitude flights by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft can produce stress responses in wildlife," say the researchers. "Yet we believe UAV flights introduce a new and unique stressor that has the potential to be more frequent and induce higher levels of stress. Our results support the 2014 decision by the US National Park Service to ban all public use of UAVs within park boundaries."
The study doesn't give a comprehensive answer to the question of how drones affect wildlife, but it's important for more research to be conducted on this topic given the rapid pace at which drones are being adopted around the world. Also given that bears are both awesome and very low on the list of animals that you would ever want to upset.