Imagine if you could see through the eyes of your favourite animal and spy on what they get up to when you are not around. In the next few months I am getting a unique opportunity to spy on my favourite animal – the great white shark – using the latest technology from National Geographic Society, called Crittercam™. Photo courtesy Andy Brandy Casagrande IV
Crittercam™ is a revolutionary research tool that attaches to animals using non-invasive methods, like suction cups on whales and fin-clamps on sharks. It gathers images, sound and data from the animal’s perspective. Invented by marine biologist and filmmaker, Greg Marshall it made its maiden voyage on the back of a sea turtle, but since then it has been deployed hundreds of times around the world on over 40 different species of sharks, whales, turtles, penguins and even lions and bears.
We will be using the latest Crittercam™, known as Generation V, which records video, audio and pressure and even makes three-dimensional profiles of sea creatures’ dives, providing information that scientists could only speculate on before. Crittercam has contributed to the basic understanding of numerous wild animals and revealed completely unexpected behaviour that has contributed to the conservation of endangered species like the Hawaiian monk seal and discovered that adult green sea turtles in Baja California and Australia feast on invertebrates and scavenge dead fish.
Crittercams were first deployed on white sharks over 10 years ago in Gansbaai, South Africa, but the camera was very bulky and attached to the shark with a tether, allowing the camera to float alongside the shark. This provided suitable video when the shark was swimming slowly, but became unstable when the shark chased prey or decided to swim faster. It went back to the drawing board and in 2004 my partnership with the National Geographic Society started when we used a fin-clamp deployed by a specially designed deployment pole for the first time. We had 23 successful deployments on 21 individual white sharks, collected over 30 hours of video footage, together with 40 hours of time – depth and temperature data. Highlights included seeing an actual pursuit of a Cape fur seal, stalking behaviour and a shark using a reef to scratch it’s belly. It revealed that white sharks are curious animals that investigate various objects they come across from jellyfish and kelp to plastic bags floating at the surface.
This year we are joined by National Geographic’s Mark Thorpe and Graham Wilhelm to train us in the use of Crittercam™ and for the first time I will have use of this amazing tool for a few months. Mark was part of the 2005 team and is an expert at attaching Crittercams to various sea creatures, including sperm whales and tiger sharks, while Graham is the brilliant mind behind the innovative clamp design. The team is rounded off with Julie Anderson, fellow Shark Angel, Paul Wildman and Monwabisi Sikweyiya, one of Cape Town’s Shark Spotters.
Tomorrow will be our first day with the new system so wish us good-luck!
For more information on Crittercam visit their website at: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/crittercam