July 26, 2016

Recent advances in camera and computer technology have drastically reduced the cost and size of camera equipment, as millions of owners of pocket cameras can testify. The quality of photos shot by phone can be stunning. What was once the realm of serious professionals and broadcasters is now in the hands of non-professionals;relatively inexpensive and very high definition photography.

One of the most exciting tools to appear on the market has been the GoPro camera. It has traveled with BASE jumpers off cliffs, and strapped to an eagle’s neck. But there’s a new development and it’s coming fast: the 360-degree video. With six of these cameras assembled together in an array shaped like a sphere, we’re now able to film the world around us in one 360-degree view, as if we have eyes everywhere.

camera set-up.

For marine scientists, this opens up an exciting new way to make scientific discoveries. Because of the limited time marine scientists can spend submerged, video cameras have been an important tool in our quiver.

Yet normal cameras only give us a view into what’s happening directly in front of the cameras, not above, below or behind. If you’ve ever been snorkeling or diving, you know what it’s like to be looking in every direction to enjoy the wonderful sights of a coral reef.

360-degree video now gives marine scientists the ability to track fish and other organisms throughout the entire space, not only “dead-ahead” in the direction that the camera happens to be pointing.

This has many benefits. Often, scientists will use bait to attract animals to the camera to get accurate counts. Because fish swim around the camera, we can never really be sure how many there are. So we develop a number based on the maximum number of fish seen in one frame, and not the total number seen over the duration of the recording.

With the old method, we might be counting the same few individuals over and over again. And by using just one frame, that's a lot of wasted footage.

A full 360-degree view.

With the 360-degree video, we can now track the movements of fish around the entire camera to get better estimates of their numbers, always a critical piece of data in studying fish populations. The 360-degree view also allows us to find out how these fish species react to bait and the added activity associated with it.

Some species may come in once out of curiosity and others might be attracted to the camera system the entire time it’s there.

This new world of 360-degree video technology may also offer up the ability to answer new questions, and discover new behaviors and interaction among different species. Who knows where it will take us?

Understanding the advantages of this important, and exciting, new tool is just the beginning. If you would like to see a sample of how it works, watch this Ocean First Education video (best viewed on a hand-held device). Don’t forget to move around—grab the video with your mouse and move the video up, down, sideways. Take a look behind you, too!

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