When it comes to technology, I’ve lived through the most exciting of times. As a budding marine biologist during the 80’s, I didn’t have laptops and smart phones and now I am, quite literally, strapping these gadgets to sharks to study them. The same is true for photography. As the son of a photographer (trapped in the body of an insurance agent), I grew up surrounded by Nikon film cameras. In 1979, my dad gave me my first underwater camera system, a Nikonos III, and I proceeded to burn up hundreds of rolls of Kodachrome film while exploring the underwater world over the next decade. The explosion of digital photography changed my world and I replaced the old Nikonos (and three other Nikon film cameras) with a D200. This was pure photographic liberation because, like so many others, I was no longer trapped in a 36-exposure box. Second to my passion for shark research is my passion for photography and my deep desire to share my work with the world through my images. But it has not always been easy to hold a camera in one hand and a shark in the other. And working with these animals underwater has made me not only wish that I had a smaller camera system, but also eyes behind my head! Enter the latest innovation from Nikon: the KeyMission 360 camera. I couldn’t be more excited about a new camera system! It’s small and compact, waterproof, and captures 360 degrees of imagery—ideal for studying sharks in their complex, three-dimensional watery world.
I am really anxious to put one of these cameras to work. If I had one right now, I would use it for our white shark research off the coast of Massachusetts. By far, the most commonly asked question that I hear every summer is: “How many white sharks visit Cape Cod each year?” It’s a great question, but counting any fish in the ocean is not that easy; white sharks are no exception…but it is possible. To do so, we use a method that involves the identification and “video-fingerprinting” of every white shark we see during visual surveys that we conduct through the summer. In essence, we sneak up on each white shark and videotape it while it is swimming. We then use color patterns, scars, and fin shapes to identify each and every individual.
While this may sound easy, it isn’t. The quality of our research is contingent upon high quality photographs and free-swimming white sharks rarely swim in a straight line—they not only move left and right, but up and down. We spend tons of time on each shark and are not always successful. Having a small, easily maneuverable, underwater camera system that captures Nikon-quality images in all directions is an ideal tool for our ongoing work. I’m confident the new KeyMission 360 camera will improve our ability to conduct this important research, but this is just the beginning. I’m already thinking of dozens of other applications for this remarkable new camera!
Dr. Gregory Skomal is a marine scientist working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He has a master's degree in marine biology from the University of Rhode Island and a Ph.D. from the Boston University Marine Program. Google "Gregory Skomal TED talk" for his presentation on tracking great white sharks.