"We are hoping to do some honest to goodness unobtrusive observation, which really hasn't happened in the ocean," says Dr. Edith Widder, head of HARBOR BRANCH's Biophotonics Center and project leader, "Ultimately the goal is to see animals or behaviors nobody has ever seen before."
The deep sea makes up about 78% of the planet's inhabitable volume, but little is known about most of its inhabitants, more than half of which are capable of making their own light, or bioluminescence. This scientific deficiency stems from not only a lack of exploration and study of the oceans, but also from less than ideal traditional research methods. Deep-towed nets can shred animals like jellyfish or damage captured animals to the point that their natural behaviors cannot be observed in the lab. Manned submersibles and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) can deliver humans to the depths in person or virtually to observe some animals in their natural environment. However, they typically do not allow researchers to see animals' natural behaviors because the lights, motors and electric fields such vehicles bring with them are more than enough to either scare animals away before they're ever seen or frighten them into unnatural behavior.
To get around such problems, Dr. Widder dreamed of and then, in partnership with the institution's Engineering Division, created an innovative camera system to record life in the abyss unobtrusively. Called "Eye in the Sea," the system is designed to operate on the seafloor automatically and, most importantly, unnoticed by animals. The system
Contact: Mark Schrope
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution