Wild-eyed wonder

By Luke Wilusz

Imagine seeing the world through the eyes of your favorite animal, to see how they live when there are no humans around. That’s the experience that the “Crittercam: The World Through Animal Eyes” exhibit brings to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive.

The exhibit is based on Crittercam technology, invented by National Geographic marine biologist Greg Marshall. The technology allows animals to safely wear video cameras to record their experiences in the wild.

“You’re looking at the world through their eyes,” said museum Vice President of Exhibitions Alvaro Ramos. “Now, that’s more of an artistic sensibility, which for scientists may or may not be meaningful. But the first-person sensibility is meaningful to data seekers because it allows them to go into areas that they would normally not be able to go into by just being a remote observer.”

Ramos said the exhibit, which was developed by the National Geographic Society, was a perfect fit for the nature museum.

“It seemed very on-mission for us,” he said. “Basically, our reason for being here is to establish a connection between people and nature, and have people realize that nature hasn’t gone away. It’s here, and even though we live in a very urbanized area, we are still as affected by our actions in the world as someone who lives out in the deep woods. It just manifests itself in a different way.”

Ramos also said the exhibit gives visitors a glimpse of animal behavior in an urban environment through snapshots taken by a camera attached to a researcher’s pet cat.

“Essentially it was [a] very gentle and loving pet during the day,” Ramos said. “And they put the Crittercam on it because they let the cat out at night. Well, the cat became a fierce hunter, and you could see how she essentially was hunting rats and she catches one. It really brings home the idea that we’re not removed [from nature] at all. So for us to have this exhibit was a very natural decision. It really belonged here at the nature museum.”

Ramos said the Crittercam gave researchers new insights into animals’ habitats by using footage of Hawaiian monk seals as an example of how the technology helps with conservation efforts. He said researchers had previously believed that the seals’ habitat was limited to the areas where they had been personally observed.

“Through the use of Crittercam, they realized that these seals actually travel far outside that area to hunt and feed,” Ramos said. “So that actually made a change in how we’re viewing what really is a protected area; it has to be all-encompassing.”

The exhibit features footage and information on a variety of marine life, including seals, whales, sharks and sea turtles. Ramos said the majority of the exhibit’s footage is aquatic because the Crittercam was invented by a marine biologist for use in his own research.

However, the technology was eventually adapted for use with land animals as improvements in wireless and computer technology allowed the cameras to become smaller and lighter, Ramos said.

Seth Hanau of Chicago, who came to the museum with his wife and their 10-month-old son, was impressed by the concept of the Crittercam.

“The thought that … the technology actually came along to be able to put a camera on an animal and to see its approach to things and the way it lived its life was pretty cool,” Hanau said.

Aimee Bass, who came to the museum with her son, Del, said they come to see every new exhibit at the nature museum.

“He loves it,” Bass said of the Crittercam exhibit as Del ran around the penguin section, laughing excitedly.

Del said the display of a model penguin with a working Crittercam on its back was his favorite part because he got to see himself on the video display.

“Crittercam: The World Through Animal Eyes” will be on display at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum until April 11.