Camera Used to Capture Migration Footage of Endangered Sea Turtles

turtlesYou already know about the many ways a camera is typically used: recording good times with your friends and family, capturing vacation memories, and protecting your home from invaders, just to name a few. But Gregory Egan of Raleigh, North Carolina, thought outside the box when he used BrickHouse Security’s Panther Handheld Night Vision Camera and Recorder for a unique purpose: to capture video of hatching Loggerhead turtles.  Egan works to preserve the endangered Loggerhead turtles, a species where one in several thousands survives the rough land and sea environments to maturation. Not just any camera would have worked for Egan because he had to deal with difficult nighttime recording conditions, but ultimately the Panther did the trick. He shared his experience with us and we wanted to pass along the inspiring story.

Gregory Egan, a retired IBM programmer and current part-time employee of City of Raleigh Parks and Recreation, has a vacation home in Surf City, located on Topsail Island on the North Carolina coast. It was there where he noticed volunteers on the beach helping the Loggerhead turtles. Intrigued, Egan joined volunteers from the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital who every spring help the endangered animals by assisting as many as possible from their beach nests to the ocean. The 250 lb female Loggerhead turtle may lay her eggs in the sand anytime from early spring through July and may lay more than one 150-egg litter in a season. The volunteers look for signs of the tracks made by an adult female venturing from the ocean onto the sand the previous night or from the nest back to the ocean. The tracks, which are easily identifiable since they look as if a farm tractor drove into the ocean, may be found anywhere along the 26 miles of coastline that the volunteers must scour. If such tracks are found, the volunteers identify where the turtle hatching site is and wait about 55 to 62 days for incubation to occur.

Starting at the 55 day mark, the volunteers wait at the nest each night from dusk until about 11 pm until the turtles begin migrating. Each night the volunteers create a path in the sand so the turtles can travel safely from the nest to the water, seeing as the two-inch long and one-inch wide infant turtles can get stuck in only a footprint of sand. Once the turtles start moving, the volunteers only interfere when the turtles go astray; a little guidance back in the right direction is all that is needed. Once they reach the water, they swim into the ocean where they settle in the seaweed and grow. The battle for survival has only just begun but their fates are out of the volunteers’ hands at this point.

The conditions of capturing such a triumphant moment with a camera are not exactly ideal. According to Egan, once the turtles have hatched they wait until nighttime, when they feel a drop in the sand’s temperature, to venture from the nest to the water. Traveling in the dark is preferred over the daytime because there is less of a chance of encountering predators like seagulls and crabs. In order to record a video in darkness, you would automatically think to use the laser view finder to make sure you are pointing the camera directly at what you want recorded and to ensure good video quality-but Egan could not. Since the newborn turtles’ eyes are extremely delicate, the light from the laser view finder could ruin their eyesight and therefore further diminish their chances of survival. And on the particular night when Egan was following the turtles, the sky was cloudy and blocked out any possible natural light from the moon and stars.

The turtles were not going to change their instinctual life cycle just so Egan could get excellent footage, however. Considering these uncontrollable limitations, Egan needed a specific camera to fit his needs. The Panther Camera is perfect for a situation like this because it has a powerful nightvision mode, has a clip-on option for hands-free recording if you choose, and is small and lightweight for easy movement. It holds up to 8 hours of video, so there is no need to worry that turtles are slow and it may take them awhile to reach the ocean.

Despite the conditions, Egan was very satisfied with the results from his Panther Camera. Although he was unable to utilize the laser view finder, he found the clips to be of very high quality. “I took the video clips in total darkness and was extremely pleased with the results,” commented Egan. “The eyes of the baby turtles are very sensitive to light when they first come out so we don’t use any lights, not even red lenses. That means I couldn’t use the laser sight on the camera and had to guess where to point it….I am thoroughly pleased with my results especially under such adverse lighting conditions.” 

Egan’s experience is another example of how a camera suited to his specific needs allowed him to document a priceless moment even under camera-unfriendly circumstances. Helping an endangered species is well worth the dedication of the volunteers, according to Egan. “All of the sea turtles are endangered and very few if any will make it to adulthood, so we think that the little bit of help we give them does make a difference,” remarked Egan.Documentation of life cycle patterns like Egan’s video clips are enormously important to endangered species in particular because the more information scientists have, the better they can understand how to keep them from going extinct.

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