Critter cams

What happens in the far corners of the animal kingdom when no one is looking? A lot, as you might imagine. Armadillos scamper, tripod fish sit at the bottom of the ocean, waiting for prey to pass by, laughing kookaburras nest in gum trees. And you can watch it all from the comfort of your cubicle at a recently launched online museum called the linkurl:Museum of Animal Perspectives.;http://www.sameasterson.com/map "

By | September 11, 2009

What happens in the far corners of the animal kingdom when no one is looking? A lot, as you might imagine. Armadillos scamper, tripod fish sit at the bottom of the ocean, waiting for prey to pass by, laughing kookaburras nest in gum trees. And you can watch it all from the comfort of your cubicle at a recently launched online museum called the linkurl:Museum of Animal Perspectives.;http://www.sameasterson.com/map
"I feel like if people see this footage -- because it's so immersive -- they will have an innate connection to it, and they will want to protect plants and animals," says Sam Easterson, a video artist who started the project about three months ago. "I'm just interested in showing people what exists." Log on to the site, and you'll see the Dwelling Cams Gallery page -- a Google map with pointers at some 25 locations around the world. Each one takes viewers to a video of an animal kicking back in its own home -- be they birds called linkurl:Patagonian conures;http://www.sameasterson.com/PatagonianConureNestCam.html hanging out in their cliff burrows in Argentina), an linkurl:eastern mole;http://sameasterson.com/EasternMoleTunnelCam.html inspecting his tunnel in Indiana, or something more mundane, like linkurl:brook trout spawning;http://sameasterson.com/BrookTroutNestCam.html in Ontario, Canada. Separate pages gives access to underwater footage, animals on the move, animals with cameras affixed to their bodies (many of these made by Easterson in a past project), and animals listed as "threatened" on the IUCN's official Red List. "I personally am very attracted to the work aesthetically," says Easterson. "I think a lot of it is really amazing and beautiful. And it resonates very well globally because it's not overly narrated." Easterson is no stranger to incorporating the life sciences in his art. After studying art at Cooper Union in New York, he returned to school to do a Masters in landscape architecture about a decade ago. "I became very interested in how the landscape was used and how it was perceived -- both historically and ecologically," he explains. "So I just became very aware of cameras implanted in the natural environment, and in the built environment." Easterson hatched the plans for the Museum of Animal Perspectives earlier this year, while he was working with the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada, putting together videos that would become part of an exhibit called the linkurl:Schad Gallery of Biodiversity.;http://www.rom.on.ca/schad/insidegallery.php Searching for footage that showed the animal kingdom in all its glory, he started to encounter videos of animals captured using remote cameras. "I'd go to National Geographic or Corbis" -- popular stock image and video sites -- "and look for interesting footage. And I wouldn't find it there, but I'd go to YouTube and I'd find it," Easterson says. Many of the videos had been made by researchers studying a particular species -- they were designed to collect observational data, and not really to be seen by anyone outside the scientific community. Easterson nabbed a couple for the biodiversity exhibit, but the rest remained in his mental catalog until his job at the museum ended. After a recent move to Los Angeles, he revisited the videos and got started on creating a Web site to show them off.
"I'm absolutely not a Web designer, as you can tell," Easterson says. To some extent, too, the site's simplicity is a conscious choice, to allow the videos to speak for themselves. "It's not to make it flashy -- it is what it is," he explains. Easterson says that he fancies himself a "master collator," finding and collating videos shot mainly by researchers and posted on social media sites, such as Flickr and YouTube. He doesn't ask permission, since the videos are taken from free sites, but a notice on his page states that researchers are free to contact him if they want their work removed; so far, none have. (He makes no money from the project.) In the next stage of the project, though, he hopes to start making connections with researchers who do video work and are interested in getting their footage posted in the virtual museum. Ultimately, Easterson sees the museum as "an environmental social media tool" which other museums, environmental Web sites, or school kids can look to as an encyclopedia of remotely sensed animal life -- sneak-peeks at creatures great and small going about their business. Expanding the site to the point where visitors could reliably expect to find a certain species will take time, though, he says. "In month three I'm happy so far with our collection."
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:A fading field;http://www.the-scientist.com/2009/06/1/32/1/
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