SubC Stories: Whale Bone Study Continues in Barkley Canyon with Subsea Camera Observatory

Updated: Jul 3

Led by Professor Craig Smith (University of Hawaii at Manoa), Professor Lisa Levin (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), and Dr. Fabio De Leo (Ocean Networks Canada), the University of Victoria have been using SubC’s Observatory Solution for their underwater study in Barkley Canyon since 2014.

In May 2014, three humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) rib sections, one 20x20x10 block of Douglas Fir (Pseudotsunga meniziesi), and a ~ 30x30x30 block of authigenic carbonate were placed at a depth of 890m inside the Barkley Canyon -- a site at Ocean Networks Canada NEPTUNE subsea camera observatory. The purpose of this scientific experiment is to monitor the changes triggered by the implantation of various organic and inorganic substrates as well as monitor how benthic organisms utilize the sparse food resources available in deepsea settings.

**The footage shown in the Barkley Canyon timelapse video is from a newer generation of SubC smart cameras that the University of Victoria upgraded to partway through the project.

On a schedule of every two hours, the autonomous subsea cameras and LEDs panned to the three substrates and, while holding its position for one minute on each, captured five-minute videos.

"This is the first time we are able to control our observations in deep water by recording the experiments on a daily basis every two hours and turning on the lights at any time to make further observations." – Dr. Fabio De Leo

Setting up a cabled ocean observatory created a permanent presence on the seafloor allowing for long-term observation. This also eliminated the need for costly, more time-consuming monitoring via multiple deployments of ROVs or AUVs in order to gather the data. With the help of the Observatory Solution, the researchers are able to establish large-scale patterns of biodiversity and ecosystem function in areas where there are whale bones.


Citation: De Leo, Fabio & Smith, Craig R. & Levin, Lisa & Fleury, Aharon (2016). Early benthic successional processes at implanted substrates in Barkley Submarine Canyon affected by a permanent oxygen minimum zone, American Geophysical Union 2016. Bibcode: 2016AGUOSME34B0796C

Biodiversity, connectivity and ecosystem function in organic-rich whale-bone and woodfall habitats in Barkley Canyon

Whalebone Experiment in a Minimum Oxygen Zone

Researcher in Residence: Craig Smith on whale falls


Made from corrosion-proof titanium and sapphire, SubC’s Observatory Solution was purposely designed for marine researchers looking to gather optical data of specific seafloor locations over long durations.

The autonomous subsea camera offers live video via IP Ethernet and is a multiplexer that controls connected sensors in the cabled observatory and collects timelapse 4K and HD video clips and 21MP digital stills using the scripting open-source API. This all-in-one system provides the highest quality footage while reducing cost and complexity.

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