Discovering New Resources
We have explored less than 5% of the deep ocean. There are great discoveries to be made and great resources to be tapped: new species, new pharmaceuticals and new industrial compounds. In order to develop effective strategies to preserve and protect these valuable resources we need to greatly expand our understanding. How many animals are there living in the vast depths of the ocean that remain unknown? How many have we never glimpsed because they outrun our nets and avoid our bright and noisy submersibles? What are their critical breeding zones and behaviors that might be inadvertently disrupted by human activities?
Scientists observe, categorize, and count the life on land with relative ease. Performing these tasks in the ocean’s depths, however, poses daunting challenges, including the darkness and our inability to see without light. The methods we use to research the deep ocean can create obstacles, as well. Sampling with nets and brief visits with submersibles and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) have significant limitations. Bottom trawling nets can damage animals and destroy habitats, and may grossly underestimate the number of animals present. Submersibles and ROVs use noisy thrusters and bright lights that undoubtedly frighten off animals and certainly disturb their behaviors.
Dr. Edie Widder has been a pioneer in finding ways to address this challenge by working with engineers to develop stealth camera systems that can see without being seen.
The first of these was the Eye-in-the-Sea, which uses far red light illumination that is invisible to most deep-sea inhabitants and an innovative electronic lure that imitates the bioluminescent burglar alarm display of a common deep-sea jellyfish. When first deployed in the Gulf of Mexico in 2004, it recorded all kinds of secret goings on in the deep sea including a squid over 6 feet long that was completely new to science. Click here for the Eye in the Sea.
The phenomenal success of that camera system led to the development of a moored version of the Eye-in-the-Sea, which was the world’s first deep-sea webcam. Sitting almost 1000m deep in the Monterey Canyon it collected data continuously for months at a time while streaming the video to shore, observing the animal life in the dark depths with as little disturbance as possible. See the World’s First Live Underwater Webcam.
ORCA’s long-term vision is to one day combine its Eye-in-the-Sea and Kilroy technologies into observing systems that can be used to monitor and protect Marine Protected Areas.
The Medusa is the same concept as the Eye-in-the-Sea in that it uses red light to observe unobtrusively and an optical lure to attract large predators, but it is a smaller package that can be deployed either as a lander or a drifter. See The Medusa
On its first major expedition, which was off Japan in 2012, it captured the first video of a giant squid in the deep-sea – a feat described as the Holy Grail of natural history cinematography. How We Found the Giant Squid.
In 2019, the Medusa repeated this feat filming a giant squid in our own back yard, just 200 miles west of Tampa, Florida.
When the Medusa is not on an expedition ,ORCA loans it to the Cape Eleuthera Institute where it has been used for deep-sea shark studies and to help train a new generation of explorers.
The Medusa: Cape Eleuthera Institute Fall 2013
The Cape Eleuthera Institute recently teamed with ORCA for baited trial video surveys using the Medusa, a modified version of the Eye-in-the-Sea deep-sea survey equipment.
In addition to recording video footage, the Medusa also records conductivity, salinity, temperature, depth, and pressure is capable of operating at depths as great as 2,000m.