One of the major hurdles in doing research on most marine animals is the fact that much of what they do and experience takes place under water. Even diving underwater to observe them is problematic because of our own physical limitations as well as the inherent dangers divers sometimes encounter.
In 1986, during a dive trip off Belize, a shark approached marine biologist and filmmaker, Greg Marshall. As the shark swam off, Marshall noticed a remora (sucker fish) attached to it. It occurred to Marshall that if he could replace the remora with an underwater video camera, he would be able to see first hand how a shark moves through and functions in its environment. Thus, the "Crittercam" was born.
In 1987 Marshall strapped the first awkward crittercam prototype to the back of a captive loggerhead turtle. Since then, crittercams have evolved from large and awkward systems into smaller, more hydrodynamic pieces of equipment. This new technology has provided scientists with an unprecedented look into the lives of all sorts of underwater creatures. Other versions of the crittercam have even been designed for and successfully deployed on terrestrial mammals such as bears and lions.
Here at the New England Aquarium, two of our harbor seals, Amelia and Chacoda, have been trained to wear a harness to which a video camera and underwater housing have been attached. This video gives you an idea of how I went about teaching the seals to be comfortable with the various components of the harness and video housing.
Though the present version of our "crittercam" might be as unwieldy and awkward as Greg Marshall's first prototype, the chance to see what Chacoda and Amelia see as they move through their exhibit is exciting and fun.
As we gradually work out the kinks and design problems in our crittercam system we'll give you the opportunity to get a "seal's eye view" of our exhibit and it's residents. If you're interested in learning more about "Crittercams" go to the National Geographic crittercam website and find out more about this exciting research tool and the look that it's given us into the "hidden" lives of all types of animals.