CRITTERCAM: Animal-Borne Imaging

A Wild Point of View

Greg Marshall

Vice President, Remote Imaging, National Geographic Society

Videography by Nerine & Robert Clemenzi, Edited by Nerine Clemenzi
Copyright © Philosophical Society of Washington.  All rights reserved.

Greg Marshall Crittercam


Earth still holds many secrets. Despite the advances of science in the last two centuries, there are places on this planet humans have never been, and things we've never seen or even imagined. Many of the creatures we think we know from observing them in 'our world' spend the vast majority of their lives in hidden realms we have little or no access to. Inspired by the unreachable and the unknown, we've invented tools to help penetrate this other world - the wild - where animals live out their lives. We've sent surrogate machines to probe and process and have gained new understanding and appreciation for the challenges wild animals face. Increasingly, streams of digital data from animals reveal new patterns of behavior and excursions to habitats that tantalize us with virtual glimpses of how these creatures function. Yet, we have not been able to see - to directly observe - these phenomena. Until recently we've been constrained to infer animal behavior and ecology from secondary or tertiary data sources. In this presentation I will outline the state of the art in cutting-edge exploration and research into the hidden lives of some of the planets most extraordinary creatures (from flying lemurs to blue whales) using Crittercam - an animal-borne imaging and data logging system that captures a wild point of view.

The Speaker

Greg Marshall is a biologist, inventor, and filmmaker who has dedicated his career to exploring and documenting the behavioral ecology of animals in remote or otherwise inaccessible environments. In 1986, on a research dive in Belize, Greg encountered a shark and was inspired by a remora clinging to its side. Imagining the unique perspective that suckerfish have while hitchhiking with a host, Greg conceived of an animal-borne imaging system to mimic the remora, enabling study of host species behavior. He began developing a research tool to record images, sound, and data from the animal perspective. Today this system is called "Crittercam" and Greg and his team have employed these instruments in studies of whales, sharks, seals, turtles, penguins, and other marine and terrestrial species. Crittercam enables direct observation of animal behavior over unprecedented time and spatial scales, enabling better understanding of these species and the habitats they depend upon.

Greg has collaborated with dozens of science teams in studies of more than 50 species. The unique images Crittercam captures provide an intimate connection to the challenges animals face in the wild. Greg shares these images and the novel stories they convey through National Geographic films intended to inspire caring and conservation. He is a two-time Emmy Award winner for cinematography and sound (National Geographic Specials The Great White Shark and Sea Monsters: Search for the Giant Squid). Images from his research with emperor penguins were featured in the feature film March of the Penguins. He earned a bachelor's degree in international relations from Georgetown University and a master's degree inmarine science from SUNY Stony Brook. CNBC recently identified Greg as having one of the "World's Coolest Jobs".

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