Ever wonder about the secret lives of animals? Of course you do. That's why you should satisfy your inner voyeur by checking out video naturalist Sam Easterson's Museum of Animal Perspectives (M.A.P.), an online gallery of animal videos captured using remote, non-intrusive sensing cameras.
I don't know Sam at all so I don't feel unethical about shamelessly plugging his project. And plug it I will. This is one of the most fun websites I've come across in a long time. The goal of the M.A.P. project is to expand the public's capacity to empathize with animals and plants. His videos are like watching nature videos on TV, minus the annoying voice over and Disney-style editing.
Is non-intrusive-motion-sensor filming the future for nature videos? Nature videos get subjected to editing and forced storylines (just like news stories) and sometimes, in order to create a riveting story, hundreds of hours of footage is condensed into one short segment. This real footage can also be spliced together with shots taken with animals in a studio (you've seen these shots). This makes for more entertaining footage, but at the end of the day it's just not very real. Sure that was a real cheetah chasing down a real gazelle in the program you watched last night. But how many months of footage did it take to capture? How much is stock footage? Is it even the same cheetah? Obviously video naturalists, just like photographers or journalists, have to capture all these hours of footage before choosing the best shots. And nobody wants to see an hour-long program with a lion sleeping the entire time. But is the line between entertainment and truth always clear? Or is the truth spiced up to make animals seem more entertaining?
The editing of nature programs can also change public perception of animals, which can affect policy and conservation efforts. Take, for example, the much-loved dolphin, or, as I prefer to call them, nature's rapists. Typical dolphin programming gives the American public what they want to see - fun-loving harmless creatures that seem like people. But that's just not true. In 1999 National Geographic ran a television program called "Dolphins: The Wild Side" exposing the truth about our favorite surf partners: they are capable of some pretty scary sexual predation. In the video, Dr. Richard Connor, studying dolphins in Shark Bay in Western Australia, documents cases of males kidnapping and holding females as rape captives, sometimes for months at a time. And did you know that bottlenose dolphins have been known to masturbate and engage in homosexual activity? You won't see that on TV in America. But is this why Americans are more likely to vote for conservation policy that saves the dolphin than the salmon?
Hopefully footage like Sam Easterson's is just the beginning of a new wave of animal programming. By letting animals just be animals instead of forcing human-like stories into their lives the public will get a more honest (and still awesome) rendering of the natural world.
That said, I'm still excited for shark week...