Buzz off: U of M team warns that drones may cause 'acute stress' in wildlife


Could your cool, remote-control drone be making life difficult for wild animals?

A team of researchers at the University of Minnesota fears the answer is "yes," according to the findings of a study on black bears released Thursday.

In the news release, the U's team admits that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – better known as drones – have become valuable tools for wildlife researchers, giving them the means to observe animals that were once difficult to reach because of long distances and inhospitable terrain.

But the researchers, led by Mark Ditmer, a post-doctoral member of the U of M's Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, found that the little fliers sent the black bears' heart rates soaring.

Such activity, the release says, is a sign of "acute stress."

To conduct the study, the scientists fitted a number of "free-roaming" black bears in northwestern Minnesota with GPS collars and "biologgers" that monitored heart activity.

Surprising results

Although the animals appeared to be "unfazed" by the presence of the UAVs, what the researchers found came as a shock.

“Some of the spikes in the heart rate of the bears were far beyond what we expected,” Ditmer said. “We had one bear increase her heart rate by approximately 400 percent...this was the strongest response we saw, but it was shocking nonetheless.”

According to the Washington Post, the bears might not be reacting outwardly because the ones being studied live in "heavily populated" areas and are used to human noise and activity.

But, as Ditmer told the paper, “just because we can’t directly observe an effect doesn’t mean it’s not there,” adding that the potentially harmful heart activity would have remained hidden had researchers only watched the animals' movements.

The findings come as a warning, as drones are growing in popularity across a broad range of fields, including scientific research, the U of M notes.

“UAVs hold tremendous potential for scientific research and as tools for conservation,” Ditmer says. However, he continued, until the full effects of drones on animals are known, "we need to exercise caution when using them around wildlife.”

Ditmer and his team are now working with captive bears to determine whether animals can "get used" to overhead UAVs, the release says.

Next Up

Ian Cole

Wild trade Greg Pateryn to Avalanche for Ian Cole

Cole won a pair of Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh and is a former first-round pick.


St. Croix County GOP chair resigns after incendiary post on official website

John Kraft sparked controversy with his 'Prepare for War' post on the party website earlier this month.

ann kim

Ann Kim's new restaurant, Sooki & Mimi, to open in February

The James Beard Award winner is the brains behind Young Joni, Pizzeria Lola, and Hello Pizza.

Screen Shot 2021-01-19 at 1.32.19 PM

Firefighters rescue worker after trench fall in Rochester

The construction worker fell about 15 feet.

gray wolf

Grand Marais mayor's dog survives attack by wolves

He heard his 65-pound dog "screaming bloody murder" and then saw the wolves chasing her.

Screen Shot 2021-01-19 at 12.04.55 PM

Minnesota's COVID vaccine appointment site goes live

Huge demand was expected when the site went live at noon.

emily ford

Duluth woman is hiking 1,000-plus miles on the Ice Age Trail this winter

She could be the second person ever to finish a winter-thru hike of the Wisconsin trail.

coronavirus, covid-19, icu

Here is Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Tuesday, January 19

Two days in a row with fewer than 1,000 new cases.

Screen Shot 2021-01-19 at 10.52.12 AM

After fire destroyed their house, couple forced to euthanize beloved dog

The couple's daughter has launched a fundraiser for her parents.

Screen Shot 2021-01-19 at 10.16.14 AM

Investigation after teacher accused of lewd act during distance learning

No charges have been filed yet and the staff member has not been identified.