Monday, June 23, 2014

Online cameras let viewers see nature undisturbed, but disturbing images can lead to disturbance

As more people live more of their lives online, a popular trend among animal lovers are webcams set up in the wild that allow viewers to watch animals during exciting moments, mundane acts, and absences that leave voyeurs leering only at flora, not fauna. 

"These wildlife cams aren’t delivering the kind of cheeky, viral animal video that the Internet is famous for — the tiny hamsters eating tiny burritos; Buttermilk the goat jumping over other goats — but a weird genre of non-narrated, unedited nature documentary that demands a lot more of its audience," Jon Mooallem writes for The New York Times. "All they offer is a sustained stream of animals doing whatever they happen to be doing, which, let’s be honest, often doesn’t look like that much. Bison stand around in Saskatchewan. A beaver sleeps in its dam. Every blip of action — every swipe a grizzly takes at a salmon in Alaska — tends to be offset by hours of moping and loafing. Often, you click on one of these cameras and there aren’t even any animals standing in the shot."

One effort to give a glimpse into the reality of birds' natural habitat turned into much more when a struggling baby bald eagle on Minnesota Bound's Eagle Cam prompted thousands of calls, emails and notes on social media urging the state's Nongame Wildlife Program to rescue the bird. Such programs have policies to not intervene and to let nature run its course, but after so many calls, even to the governor's office, the state sent workers to the nest, where they discovered the eagle was so badly injured that it had to be euthanized. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources photo)

Lori Naumann, a public relations specialist for Eagle Cam, said she was conflicted about interfering with the eagle, Mooallem writes: "She explained to me that wildlife advocates generally look at these cameras as a way to deliver wildlife to people who don’t otherwise go out of their way to notice it. A live-stream of bears or birds brings nature to our tablets or phones with the long-term hope of eventually bringing us back to nature. But maybe it’s kind of backfiring on us."

Mooallem writes, "In Minnesota, the public had managed to turn the EagleCam into just another app. Rather than appreciate what they were seeing on its own terms, they saw something that didn’t feel right, swiped at it, and changed what was happening on the screen. In truth, that isn’t so different from how we’ve always interacted with nature off-line, too. We manipulate and manage the world’s wild things to reflect our ideas about what’s right and wrong, about what belongs in nature and what’s an abomination." (Read more)

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