Black bears shown to exhibit stress in the vicinity of drones

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Black bears such as these were used in the drone study. Photo: Courtney Celley/USFWS

It seems that bears, like so many people, do not like it when drones are buzzing over their heads.

A University of Minnesota study involving black bears in that state found that the animals' heart rates increased when drones were flying close by.

Six bears were outfitted with GPS collars and heart-monitoring devices that enabled scientists to obtain data during 17 different unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) flights, and the heart rates of bears increased during all 17 flights to within 20 meters of the critters.

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In one case, a bear's tranquil heart rate quadrupled from 41 beats per minute to 162 beats per minute.

Not surprisingly, the stress responses were higher when bears could not hear the devices coming and the element of surprise was involved. While all six bears displayed signs of stress, none moved to different locations to escape the drones, which were the small quad-copter type used so widely these days.

The study was intended to help determine the affects of drones on wildlife for research purposes, but the findings might also help wildlife agencies formulate guidelines for people using the devices for recreational and commercial photography.

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One black bear’s heart rate quadrupled when a drone flew overhead. Generic photo: USFWS

States a passage in the study, published this month in Current Biology:

"It has long been established that low-altitude flights by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft can produce stress responses in wildlife, 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.

"UAVs can fly extremely low (some with maneuverability to fly under a forest canopy) and are rapidly gaining popularity with industry, hobbyists, and researchers due to the widespread availability of off-the-shelf units, decreasing costs, and ease of use."