Text size
Text Print Share Email
Mar 11, 2009

Biologist and deep-sea explorer Dr. Edie Widder has invented the first camera designed to capture images of the never-before-seen creatures that inhabit the ocean’s depths.

By Amy Van Vechten

Since 1997, Dr. Edie Widder has been struggling with the limits of deep-sea exploration.
“I’ve done over 250 dives in submersibles with bright lights and loud thrusters,” Widder explains. “They scare everything away. I was frustrated by the way we explore the ocean, so I developed a new way.”
Her invention, called the Eye-in-the-Sea, is a custom-made 500-pound, high-sensitivity camera. Specially designed to operate at depths reaching 3,000 feet, the camera was created to capture images of an underwater world that rarely has been seen before.
With funding from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the Eye-in-the-Sea was submerged in January in the waters of Monterey Bay off the California coast for a six-month observational stretch. Researchers are working around the clock to monitor the footage as it streams in.
The camera is equipped with 16 LED lights that mimic the glowing flickers of jellyfish. Termed bioluminescent displays, these attract predators and other ocean life to the camera, which then is able to record their behavior.
“It was hard at first to get funding, because you have to propose what you’re going to discover, and I had no idea,” Widder admits.
But on its initial test run in the Gulf of Mexico in 2004, the Eye-in-the-Sea revealed how valuable it may turn out to be. Only 86 seconds after Widder activated its light displays, a giant, 6-foot squid appeared on screen. The creature was so unfamiliar that scientists were unable to place it in any known family.
“To be able to observe like this is critical to understanding the ecosystem as a whole, and understanding it is the first step to protecting it,” she says. “This is a new frontier in oceanography.”

login or register to post a comment