Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
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eye in the sea cameraLook around on land, and you can see life everywhere. But it’s a different story down in the deep ocean. There are still plenty of animals around, but deeper than about 200 m (660 feet) there’s no light left to see them. Instead, light comes from the sea creatures themselves. More than 90 percent of them give off faint bluish flashes and glows, called bioluminescence, that seem unearthly to visitors from dry land.

When looking around in the dark, it’s natural to use a flashlight, and that’s how most research in the deep sea is done: cruising in a submarine behind bright headlights. But it’s not a great way to find shy creatures, which can dodge out of the way of the loud, glaring sub. By taking the opposite approach – sitting quietly and watching in the dark – ORCA Eye-in-the-Sea lets creatures come to it.

The basic design is a very sensitive black-and-white video camera mounted on an aluminum tripod. The camera amplifies stray photons of light to create images we can see. The seafloor around MARS is so deep and dark that a nearby bioluminescent animal can light up the screen almost as if it were a cruise ship passing at night.

The camera is focused on a spot about 2 meters (6 feet) away and can see an area about 2 m wide. Extra illumination is provided by powerful red lights that are invisible to most sea creatures. The added light helps in identifying animals by making their non-luminescent parts visible.

ORCA Eye-in-the-Sea can lure curious animals into view in one of two ways: by offering bait or by grabbing their attention using an electronic flashing jellyfish lure. Scientists plan to soon add a high-resolution color camera (with powerful flash) that they can trigger remotely when something interesting swims into view.

ORCA Eye-in-the-Sea Video | Back to top

EITS Video
Click on the thumbnail to access some archived video footage from the recent deployment of ORCA Eye-in-the-Sea in the Monterey Canyon. Then use the activities to incorporate these videos into your instruction!

ORCA Eye-in-the-Sea Activities | Back to top

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Critter Characteristics

This activity encourages students to apply their knowledge of natural selection, ocean life, and ocean zones to observe and analyze the unique adaptations needed by organisms that exist in the deep ocean.
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Observing Deeply

Animals and plants have a great variety of body plans and internal structures that contribute to their being able to make or find food and reproduce. In this activity, students will use technology to explore how animals in the deep sea are adapted to living in that environment.
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Who’s New in the Deep Sea?

This activity helps familiarize students with the technology and methods scientists use to study the deep sea, and helps students make possible connections between organisms and their habitat.

ORCA Eye-in-the-Sea in the news | Back to top

TED—Edith Widder: Glowing life in an underwater world: (04/19/10)

Wired Science: (01/22/09)
Gallery: Robotic Sub Installs Deep-Sea Webcam

Wired Science : (01/21/09)
WiSci Tweets Live from a Monterey Bay Research Boat

PBS Nature Interview: (06/11/08)
The Beauty of Ugly—Interview with Dr. Edith Widder

Popular Mechanics: (May 2006)
A More Candid Underwater Camera

Science News for Kids: (12/12/07)
Eyes on the Depths

Nature News: (11/21/07)
Marine biology: Lights in the deep (09/28/05)
Scientists capture giant squid on camera

ORCA Eye-in-the-Sea Web Resources | Back to top

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Last updated: Sep. 14, 2011