A hi-tech drone tested in Britain and which could replace police helicopters will be flown in Canada to help save whales.
Welsh officers carried out trials with the Hermes 900 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for exercises simulating missions which would normally be flown by force choppers.
The aircraft was also tested by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for UK search and rescue missions in successful trials off Aberporth, West Wales.
But Canada’s government has bought one of the StarLiner “eye-in-the-sky” drones – similar to armed Reapers used by the RAF to blast ISIS terrorists in Syria – in its fight to protect North Atlantic right whales.
It will be used to “support maritime environmental protection missions in the Arctic and along the Canadian eastern and western coasts, as part of the Canadian National Aerial Surveillance Program”, according to manufacturer Elbit Systems.
The drone will examine “environmental impacts, including detection of oil pollution, ice patrol and reconnaissance and wildlife surveys”, the firm added.
Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said: “Canada is committed to protecting our endangered species and our marine environment.
“Integrating remotely piloted aircraft into our fleet will make our surveillance operations more robust than ever.”
Fewer than 366 North Atlantic right whales are left in the western North Atlantic, and in the eastern part of the ocean scientists believe they may already be functionally extinct.
The giants can weigh up to 70 tonnes on average and grow to 52ft.
They have been described as “like tanks in the water – heavy, wide and dense”.
The aircraft brought in to protect them has a top speed of 137mph and a cruise speed of 70mph.
Its wing span is 49ft and can stay airborne for 36 hours and fly at 30,000ft.
A Transport Canada spokesman told the Mirror: “The drone will be used to support the National Aerial Surveillance Program in all its mandates, including pollution, fisheries monitoring, and wildlife survey.
“To date, Transport Canada has used drones to conduct a Beluga whale survey in Baffin Bay and North Atlantic right whale surveillance in the Gulf of St Lawrence.”
Industry insiders hope British authorities, which are examining potential aircraft for a new civilian-use drone contract, could see the benefits for beefing-up protections of maritime conservation zones around the UK coast.
One source said: “As the capabilities of UAVs develop, so do the opportunities to use them in exciting and positive ways.
“The defence industry has often led technological advances that positively benefit society, and this new, environmental protection angle is something that we should be proud of and encourage elsewhere.”
Experts also hailed the potential for non-military use.
Royal United Services Institute associate fellow Dr Alex Walmsley said the “extended range” of drones like StarLiner “makes them ideal for environmental protection tasks in extreme climates and over large geographic areas, such as fisheries protection, wildlife surveys and pollution detection”.
The drone, which weighs 1.1 tonne and is piloted remotely by two crew at a base, underwent British trials with the coastguard over the Irish Sea last autumn.
Elbit Systems said: “The demonstrations were run by the MCA and were designed to test the capabilities of using a UAS (unmanned aircraft system) to enhance search and rescue capabilities and the use of long-range unmanned capabilities in civilian airspace.
“Taking place off the west coast of Wales over the first two weeks of September, the Hermes 900 was able to fly advanced beyond line of sight missions into unsegregated and uncontrolled airspace, in full alignment with the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
“The success of these trials is a significant step forward in enhancing the capabilities of the MCA as they seek to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its search and rescue operations while reducing the risk to MCA personnel in the field.”