If you’ve ever been curious about what goes on at the bottom of the world’s largest lake, you can take a look for yourself – and you don’t even have to get wet. A device called the “fishcam” is sitting under 35 feet of water in Lake Superior and it’s now sending pictures to the Internet. Researchers say it’s the only permanently mounted underwater camera in the world sending live images back to shore. The pictures are fun to look at, but researchers say they’re also useful to biologists who study underwater life in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Julin has the story:
If you’ve ever been curious about what goes on at the bottom of the world’s largest lake, you can take a look for yourself — and you don’t even have to get wet. A device called the “fish cam” is sitting under 35-feet of water in Lake Superior and it’s now sending pictures to the Internet. Researchers say it’s the only permanently mounted underwater camera in the world sending live images back to shore. The pictures are fun to look at, but researchers say they’re also useful to biologists who study underwater life in the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Julin has the story.
A team of researchers put the camera underwater more than a year ago. It sits on the lake bottom, several miles from Duluth. The researchers have watched pictures from the “fish cam” for months, but now, anyone with a computer hooked to the Internet can get a scuba diver’s view of the bottom of Lake Superior. The research team recently gathered at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth to unveil the “fish cam” website. Fish expert Greg Bambenek has had the fish cam hooked-up to the computer at his house, but at the aquarium, he watched the fish cam on the screen of a laptop.
“That’s streaming out on the web right now. It’s updated every ten seconds. The fish there are mullet. At night, we have a micro-cam that brings the zooplankton into close focus, and at times you’ll see the mullet eating the zooplankton.”
Those zooplanktons are tiny animals called “water fleas.” They’re fractions of an inch long –far too small to show up through the fish cam’s standard lens. But Bambanek says it’s a different story at night, when the fish cam switches to a magnifying lens, and the computer screen comes alive with little critters.
“Leptodora is the large one. Then you’ll see little copepods that kind of look like Pokemon creatures with the antennas coming off their head, and they’re smaller. They’re only a couple millimeters, so you wouldn’t be able to see them if you were diving in the water.”
The people gathered to see the fish cam’s first Internet images had to settle for a murky picture. A strong northeast wind was blowing in off the lake, kicking up big waves, and stirring up the bottom. The researchers say big waves make for blurry pictures. Even so, lots of fish were visible in the frame. The fish might be crowding in because researchers are releasing fish scent through a special tube attached t the camera. But photographer Doug Hajicek says it’s surprising how many fish swim past even without the fish scent. Hajicek designed and built the underwater camera, and he’s been watching a private feed from the fish cam for months.
“This lake is extremely alive. There is a food chain that is so delicate and tiny. Everybody thinks of Lake Superior as just a sterile body of water, and we’re hoping to change that.”
Some of the fish that swim into view are called ruffe, a non-native species that’s invading the Great Lakes. Researcher Greg Bambenek says it is surprising see so many ruffe here, six miles from Duluth. He says biologists believed ruffe stayed closer to harbors. Bambenek says that’s just one example of the valuable information about life in the Great Lakes that scientists can get from the fish cam.
“We can take freeze-frame, count the number of zooplankton, count the number of fish, and also look at it over time, and also see what does a northeaster do? What do the fish do? Do they leave? Do they come back? What does water temperature do? We have a temperature sensor down there. We also have a hydrophone so we can hear what’s going on underneath the water. So, it is a research tool.”
Bambenek says the research team learned a lot during the year it took to get the camera up and running on the Internet. He says the team is planning to put another camera in Lake Superior, farther from shore, and hopes to put a third camera somewhere on the floor of the ocean.
You can see images from the Lake Superior fish cam at Duluth.com/fishcam.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Chris Julin in Duluth.