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Video | Volunteering | Mammals

Thursday, January 14, 2010


The times that I spent swimming around sea lions made me admire their grace and power as they glided through their liquid domain. I wondered what it would be like to propel oneself out of the water like they do during a porpoise or other maneuver so powerfully and efficiently below the surface. This curiosity recently led me to construct an underwater camera rig that one of the Aquarium’s sea lions could voluntarily hold during one of our pinniped presentations so that we could get a look at a sea lions point-of view of a session. This week’s blog features a video of the first test of my “Sea Lion-Cam”.

During my days as a flight test photo specialist many years ago I once got a commendation for using photo assets in innovative and creative ways to document the development of the stealth aircrafts that I worked on. I loved tinkering with photo equipment and years later I’m using the same technical creativity I used documenting classified jet aircraft to attempt to get a sea lion’s view of their underwater world.

One of our senior mammalogists, Carolyn, was kind enough to help me in the creation of my pinniped camera rig. She suggested a large ring that a sea lion, in this case Milo, could carry with him as he maneuvered though the exhibit. We first constructed a ring without a camera so that Milo could get use to holding it. Carolyn made it her special project to train Milo to become an aquatic photographer. Using her expertise it only took a few sessions before we were ready to mount the camera to the rig. Throughout the training sessions, carrying the camera was always a voluntary behavior. As a safety factor, my vision of the camera rig during its design phase was always that no harnesses or straps would be used. The animal would always have the option to drop the camera if it wanted to. Milo the sea lion turned out to be an enthusiastic photographer and the results of the first test were quite encouraging and also eye opening. In one of the scenes you can see a vortex created by Milo’s body as he reentered the water after a porpoise. In a couple of other scenes you can see Carolyn and me watching from the deck as Milo porpoises out of the water towards us. Its turning into quite an exciting little project.

This video below is of the first test of the camera rig.

Using the results of this test I’ve already made a few modifications to the rig. Stay tuned for more Sea Lion-Cam videos in future blogs.

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