Ever since he was a kid, Martín Benavides has viewed sharks a little differently than most people.

“I’ll never forget the first time I watched the movie ‘Jaws,’” he said. “I was crying when the shark died at the end. My family thought I was crazy, but for me, it was really traumatic to see a shark be killed that way.”

Now, as a PhD student at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, Benavides is pursuing his life-long dream of being a shark conservationist.

While sharks play a critical role in the health of coastal ecosystems, they can be challenging to study. As Benavides said, sharks are elusive. “You can’t see them most of the time—they’re underwater, they move around a lot.”

Traditional methods for gathering data on sharks include catch-and-release fishing surveys, acoustic and satellite tags, aerial surveys with helicopters, laboratory tank studies and DNA analysis. But Benavides is interested in a brand new approach—specifically drones.

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