A Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution scientist will soon combine stealth and ingenuity with a deep-sea self-contained underwater camera of her own design in a quest to capture images of creatures that live in the darkest depths of the world’s oceans.

You might say Dr. Edie Widder, a world-renowned expert in marine bioluminescence (www.biolum.org), is literally taking a scientific “shot in the dark” that may result in images of creatures that have never been seen before.

The “Eye In The Sea” camera system Dr. Widder designed will be used for the first time on July 23 in the deep Monterey Canyon area off Monterey Bay, California, at depths of between 700 meters and 1,000 meters.

What makes the camera so unique is its ability to sit alone on its tripod on the deep ocean bottom, waiting quietly for a flash of bioluminescence to bring it to life. The instant any creature in the inky depths flashes its chemical signal, the camera will record the bioluminescent flash, and then send out a beam of red light, invisible to the animal, while simultaneously taking a digital image.

Dr. Widder explains why she hopes to capture images of creatures that may have remained undiscovered until now. For one thing, only a tiny percentage of the ocean depths have been explored and scientists believe there could be creatures living in those depths that humans have never seen.

The second reason is simple; stealth.

“A big noisy submersible with its bright lights can be seen or heard or otherwise sensed by deep-sea creatures from a long way away, and that has no doubt scared away a lot of animals,” Dr. Widder said.

Dr. Widder has been trying since 1994 to make her Eye In The Sea project a reality. She finally succeeded in launching the effort last year with a $35,000 check from HARBOR BRANCH Oceanographic Institution (www.hboi.edu) to the Harvey Mudd College of Engineering for initial development.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provided $15,000 to help develop the deep-sea housing that has to protect the camera system from the crushing pressure at depth, and Dr. Widder has financed the rest of the project from her own HARBOR BRANCH budget and from the sale of video and still images

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) is providing Dr. Widder, an Adjunct Scientist at MBARI, ship and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) time and an extra set of the special batteries required by the system. From the research vessel Point Lobos, MBARI’s ROV Ventana will transport the Eye In The Sea system to the depths of the Monterey Canyon.

Dr. Widder plans to deploy Eye In The Sea for the first time on July 23rd, and the system will be retrieved and any images its taken will be downloaded the next day. It will then be dropped right back into the ocean depths for another 24 hours, and retrieved for the second time July 25th.

Dr. Widder plans to deploy the camera for longer periods of time in other parts of the ocean after the system and any images it takes are evaluated.


For more information, or to arrange for interviews or to request images, please contact Geoff Oldfather, HARBOR BRANCH Director of Public Relations, at 561.465.2400 ext. 206, or on his cell phone at 561.216.1458. Please visit www.hboi.edu for information about HARBOR BRANCH, and you may learn more about Dr. Widder and marine bioluminescence at www.biolum.org or also at www.bioscience-explained.org/EN1.1/features.html.

For an animated sequence of the Eye In The Sea system, please visit www.at-sea.org in August for “Fathoming the Gulf Streat – Nature’s Pharmacy and Eyes In The Sea” – HARBOR BRANCH’S online mission coverage which will include daily dispatches from our team aboard the R/V Seward Johnson, science and technology articles, video streams, animations and more.

HARBOR BRANCH Oceanographic Institution is one of the world’s leading nonprofit oceanographic research organizations dedicated to exploration of the earth’s oceans, estuaries and coastal regions for the benefit of mankind.