Oceans Unmanned expands its freeFLY UAS program to Dutch Harbor, Alaska



In partnership with Alaska Sea Grant and Aleutian Aerial LLC, and with additional support from DJI, Oceans Unmanned Inc. has announced the expansion of its freeFLY initiative into Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to provide UAS aerial support for marine mammal entanglement response efforts in the region.

The freeFLY program, which was launched earlier this year in Hawaii, provides training, equipment, and management oversight to networks of local volunteer UAS operators that are available to support response groups.

Led by Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, the Dutch Harbor network seeks to “safely free endangered whales and other marine animals from life threatening entanglements, while also gathering valuable information that will reduce entanglement threats in the future.” According to Oceans Unmanned, the addition of aerial imagery from on-scene, vessel-launched UAS will provide responders “improved situational awareness and increased safety for both the animal and responders.”

“The use of drone technology will be a huge advantage to our response capabilities. The ability to decrease the interactions between responders and an entangled animal will increase the safety for all involved,” comments Melissa (Missy) Good, the Regional Entanglement Response Coordinator.

“As a public reminder, marine mammals are wild animals and getting close increases the risk of being bitten or injured. Marine mammals should not be approached closer than 100 yards, in addition, stranded animals are likely already stressed, and your presence will increase their stress.”

Brian Taggart, Chief Pilot for Oceans Unmanned, explains that “operating drones off a small boat and providing the responders the imagery they need in a timely manner can be challenging.” Taggart says that “the freeFLY program ensures all operators are well trained and equipped, operate at the highest level of safety and professionalism, and meet the requirements under the NOAA permit.” 

Oceans Unmanned says that a recent training class has certified a local volunteer operator to support response efforts this year. More training is scheduled for next year.

DJI has donated its Phantom 4 Pro systems and accessories to the program.