|The first Crittercam |
prototype on a turtle
A struggling graduate student, Greg needed funding for his fledgling project. With small research grants from the American Museum of Natural History and his alma materthe State University of New York at Stony Brookhe bought one of the first handheld video cameras and fitted it into a fiberglass housing.
Strapped to the back of a captive loggerhead turtle, the awkward prototype, amazingly, didn't seem to bother its host. The turtle just went about her businessthe first indication that Crittercam had potential as a research tool.
But true biology happens in the wild. How would free-roaming animals take to Crittercam?
To convince the scientific community that his concept had potential, Greg hit the road. He presented his idea at biological conferences and talked to any behavioral ecologist who would listen.
But this was the late 1980scompact video technology was brand new. Strapping a camera to a wild animal to study its behavior seemed, to many, too far-out to be taken seriously. Greg raised eyebrows, but no funds.
Frustrated, but undaunted, Greg contacted the David E. Luginbuhl Foundation, which decided to take a risk on Crittercam. Dedicated to the study and conservation of highly endangered leatherback sea turtleswhich spend 99.9 percent of their time at seathe foundation understood the potential of a tool that would allow access to the leatherback's alien world.
After Greg deployed his first field-worthy Crittercam on a nesting leatherback in St. Croix in 1989, the turtle steered her massive body through the crashing surf and into the pitch-black ocean.
The deployment was a sink-or-swim test for Crittercam. When Greg lost the system's radio signal in the early morning hours, the project effectively sank. The nesting female returned to the beach seven days laterwithout Crittercam.