By Tori Chester
Until September 16, Discovery Place will feature National Geographic Crittercam, an exhibit dedicated to showing the world from the point of view of everything from whales to housecats. As tiny cameras designed by marine biologist and filmmaker Greg Marshall, “Crittercams” are built to attach to different animals. Since the project’s conception in 1986, the cameras have proved more than valuable in biology, enabling scientists a window into the world of their subjects. Over the years, the videos have led to an increased understanding of many animals, including the brown bear and the Hawaiian monk seal.
The exhibit features a small section dedicated to explaining how the Crittercams work. In addition, it is divided into animal sections that explore the research the cameras have yielded for biologists. A life-size great white shark hangs over its section, jaws wide—but the section itself describes how the shark maneuvers through the water. Bright yellow “fun facts” declare the breed’s intelligence, citing video proof that the sharks are not, in fact, mindless monsters. In the land animals section, a lion cub paws at the camera attached to its mother’s neck.
However, the exhibit is more than informative blurbs and photographs of cute animals: it makes biology fun. The sea turtle section has a camera-wearing model turtle for kids to play with. Children press bright red buttons to watch videos, and to get information, they have to open brightly colored flaps on the wall. A favorite is a clear “observation tube” beside a model penguin, where the viewers climb beneath the dome, wave at the penguin’s crittercam, and hurry out to see themselves on a nearby monitor.
“Anytime you put an animal in front of a child, they tend to love it,” said Stewart, admitting she likes the penguins as well.
It turns out strapping a Crittercam onto an animal has done much more than Marshall could have imagined in the idea’s infancy. Rather than staying in studies as a biology tool, the cameras have allowed scientists to bring to the public the realities of everyday life in the ocean, forests, and plains.
The results are more than impressive. The ability to follow a creature’s every move in some way humanizes even the scariest predators. Children can watch a great white shark gently nudge objects with its snout before taking a bite. They can giggle as a lion cub nuzzles up against its mother.
Observation begets understanding, and with the help of Discovery Place, the Crittercam exhibit is introducing a generation of Charlotte families to the wonders of the animal kingdom.