Finding a Valentine Can Be Hard for Animals Too, Cameras Show

John Roach
for National Geographic News
Valentine's Day Special Report

This story is one of a series looking at National Geographic Crittercam research. Crittercam is a research instrument worn by wild animals and equipped with a video camera and other information-gathering equipment. (Get the basics on underwater and terrestrial Crittercams.)

For more on this story, tune in to the Crittercam TV series on the National Geographic Channel in the U.S. Watch video previews online.

For National Geographic researchers, it's all in the name of science, but a camera-equipped system they developed to deploy on wild animals has a certain voyeuristic quality to it.

The research tool, known as Crittercam, has been carried by all kinds of male marine mammals trying to woo their female counterparts. In a seeming testament to the plight of males throughout the animal kingdom, the Crittercam footage shows that getting a female to mate is a tough task.

"It appears in all the work we've done that it's a struggle for males to find mating opportunities," said Greg Marshall, Crittercam's creator and director of National Geographic's Remote Imaging Program.

Among the action captured on film includes a male monk seal chasing a female for three days to no avail; male harbor seals singing their hearts out and blowing bubbles to an audience of none; and male hawksbill sea turtles searching far and near for female companionship—only to find other males on similar wanderings.

When the researchers deployed a Crittercam on a female hawksbill sea turtle to find out why the males were having such a hard time, they discovered that she was taking cover in a cave, presumably hiding from the lonely males out on the prowl.

"One thing we see is that males are a whole lot more interested in mating than females," said Mike Heithaus, a marine biologist at Florida International University in Miami and host of the Crittercam television series currently airing on the National Geographic Channel.

Research Insight

Crittercam has never actually caught a male and female in the throes of … well, the physical act of mating. But the courtship behaviors and rituals documented are a boon to science.

For example, footage of leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica showed males in search of a mate migrating to waters off of beaches where females lay their eggs.

"Biologists studying leatherbacks didn't think males were coming near beaches. They thought all the mating was offshore on the feeding grounds," Heithaus said.

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