Greg Marshall, the inventor of Crittercam (a compact camera/data collecting device that attaches to animals), came to New London, CT on March 19th to speak about his invention and the insight it has provided into animal behavior. Animal Fact Guide editors P.A. Smith and Abi Cushman, who reviewed the Crittercam exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science last summer, had the opportunity to attend this fascinating presentation.
In his talk, entitled “A Wild Point of View,” Marshall described how he first came up with the idea of Crittercam. On one expedition, he noticed a suckerfish attached to the dorsal fin of a shark. He noted that the shark appeared to behave in a way unaffected by the suckerfish, and from there, he made the connection that it was possible to attach a camera in an unobtrusive manner as well.
Throughout the presentation, Marshall stressed the importance that the Crittercam not impact the animal. This was essential not only for the well-being and safety of the animal but also because they wanted to be sure to collect true data about how animals actually behave in the wild. If the animals acted differently in response to having the device attached to them, the data they collected would be compromised.
The Crittercam, which has become more and more streamlined and compact as years pass, collects more than just video imagery. The device collects a wealth of data such as temperature, light levels, pressure, and audio. This supporting information allows scientists to more fully comprehend what they see in the video footage.
This unique view into animal behavior has led to many new discoveries. For example, they learned about the feeding patterns of several marine animals. In the instance of king penguins, they found that the penguins would dive deep and look up towards the ice to spot the fish silhouetted by the light shining through. In this way, they acted in a similar way to a hawk circling above land and swooping in to catch their prey, but in reverse. In the instance of humpback whales, they discovered that the whales would dive deep, drive fish towards the surface, blow bubbles around the school forming a “net” to herd them, and then use their fins to scare the fish into their open mouths.
Marshall delivered an excellent presentation, providing interesting and sometimes humorous anecdotes about his experiences in the field. If you have the opportunity to hear him speak in your area, we recommend you attend.
You can also view the Crittercam exhibition which is currently on display at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago until April 11. From May 22 to January 5, 2011, you can see Crittercam at The Wildlife Experience in Parker, Colorado.
For more information, see National Geographic’s Crittercam website and National Geographic’s Crittercam event page.