Scientist Lauds Crittercam for Animal Perspective

Jennifer Vernon
For National Geographic News
January 20, 2004

Michael Heithaus, assistant professor of marine biology at Florida International University, is the host of the National Geographic Channel's new 13-part Crittercam series.

What do you think makes this series different from other nature programs?

I think the main thing that makes this series unique is that for the first time ever, viewers are going to get a chance to go where animals go and see what they see from their perspective. And there's no other way to really get into their lives in the same way as you can by hitching a ride along.

The other thing that's really interesting about this series—and different—is that it really takes people along on scientific adventures, going to some of the most remote places on the planet, working with some of the most amazing animals. People can get a sense of what it's like to be involved in this research and how people learn all these things that you just hear about. And so it's a real in-the-moment adventure.

What exactly is your role, as host?

Well, it's not really a traditional host role. I'm up to my ears in the action, helping with these scientific research teams. So, you know, I think of myself as just a biologist who basically helps people tag along with these research projects.

Your wife, Linda Heithaus, also contributed to the series?

She was one of the major researchers on [the series] … You're also going to see her, because she and I work as a team most of the time … in the episode on sharks quite a bit, and you're also going to see her doing her impersonation of Mario Andretti as our boat driver in the turtle episode.

And that may not sound like an important job, but when you're flinging yourself off a moving boat, it's important to have about the best driver in the world around to make sure you don't end up in the props. Not to mention get you close enough to the turtles … .

Crittercam recovery can be challenging. Were you ever worried you wouldn't get one back?

Yeah, there've been more than a few sleepless nights. But pretty much without fail we managed to get these things back. And it's pretty amazing—those guys that build these systems, the engineers, deserve so much credit. You can't give those guys enough credit, in my opinion. It's kind of like Q in James Bond—they have to do all the work, and then they say, "Please don't break it." And usually we don't … .

How do you see Crittercam data being useful to scientists?

Continued on Next Page >>




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