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Marine animals become filmmakers

shark cam

March 6, 1996
Web posted at: 2:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Lori Waffenschmidt

(CNN) -- Imagine Jaws with a camera strapped to his back, filming his own movements as he navigates through the ocean. It seems far-fetched, even for Hollywood.

But in real life, some aquatic animals are darting through the sea with cameras, shooting films as they go. A camera dubbed the "Crittercam" lets scientists examine animal behaviors better than ever.

The "Crittercam" can be attached to animals such as the Hawaiian monk seal or sharks, enabling researchers to watch the world from the animal's point of view.

"We're using this new camera system, this 'Crittercam' technology, to go out and see from the animal's perspective how it engages its environment," says Gregg Marshall, the camera's inventor.

Because divers often alter an animal's behavior, the "Crittercam" has provided scientists with important and unique revelations.

monk seal

For nearly 10 years, the population of Hawaiian monk seals has been declining, and conventional equipment did little to reveal the reasons why. With information gained from "Crittercam," researchers hope to reverse the trend. (513K QuickTime movie)

Marshall explains that with "Crittercam," researchers can predict when the seal will return to the beach. (114K AIFF sound or 114K WAV sound)

Once that happens, researchers can recapture the animal and remove the camera, or they can use a remote to trigger the camera to fall off.

For sharks and other animals that don't come ashore, the camera is designed to detach automatically. A radio transmitter then helps the crew locate and recover the device.

"One twist that we haven't taken yet is to train animals to carry these systems to go out and study other animals," Marshall says.

Jim Harvey, however, is doing just that. He's training sea lions to film whales.

sea lions

For six years, Harvey, an assistant professor at Moss Landing Laboratories in California, has been training California sea lions to respond to human commands. His experiment is now diving one step further. The sea lion is learning to swim parallel to whales 30 feet away.

If everything goes well, the sea lions will be filming by the summer. However, the experiment may sink soon: Harvey says he's running out of money.

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