Science

Omnidirectional camera put to practical use – in whale study

Omnidirectional camera put to ...
The camera was temporarily attached to a whale using a pole and a suction cup
The camera was temporarily attached to a whale using a pole and a suction cup
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The camera was temporarily attached to a whale using a pole and a suction cup
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The camera was temporarily attached to a whale using a pole and a suction cup

Omnidirectional video cameras are becoming increasingly popular, although they're still mostly just used recreationally. An international scientific research team, however, has now utilized one of the devices to gain a better understanding of whale behaviour.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the things, omnidirectional cameras are essentially actioncams with two or more lenses, which allow them to capture a 360-degree panorama of everything around them. That footage can subsequently be viewed using VR goggles – with the view changing as the user turns their head – or on an ordinary computer screen, with the viewer using their mouse to pan and tilt within the recorded environment.

One of the neat things about the cameras is the fact that, should you be wondering what was behind or beside the videographer, you can just look. Such is not the case with traditional waterproof cameras, that have been attached to marine creatures in order to see what they get up to while underwater.

With that in mind, a research team led by Japan's Kobe University started out by using epoxy glue to waterproof a Ricoh Theta ominidirectional camera. That camera was then attached to a buoyant suction cup, along with a radio transmitter and a behavioural data logger – the latter was designed to record factors such as swimming speed and dive depth. The combination of devices was referred to as a "tag."

In January 2016, the team used a small motorboat to approach a humpback whale off the coast of Norway, then utilized a 6-meter (19.7-ft) pole to stick the tag onto the animal's back. The tag came loose after several hours – as it was intended to – then floated to the surface where it was located via its transmitter.

Upon viewing the footage, it was discovered that the whale and several of its pod-mates rested for an extended period while on a dive. This was evidenced by their greatly reduced swimming speed – they were essentially just drifting – and the fact that their flukes were not moving.

It had previously been observed that baleen whales such as the humpback rest mainly at the surface. Based on the newly analyzed video, however, the team now theorizes that the animals switch between surface and underwater resting, based on factors such as marine conditions and their own physical condition.

A paper on the research – which also involved scientists from the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, the University of Tokyo, and the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) – was recently published in the journal Behavioural Processes.

Source: Kobe University

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