This blog is also posted on my personal blog.
I joined the Wainwright lab in October of last year. While I had experience with swimming fish, including high-speed video analyses, I had not done any filming of fish feeding. At the beginning of this year I got my first taste of obtaining high-speed videos of fish suction feeding. Since that time I have been amazed at the diversity of fish the lab studies (for example, check out the Inimicus didactylus video), the speed of the strikes, and kinematics during the strike; some of the little fish have quite a big gape to capture their prey. The data we are gathering is allowing us to get a glimpse of the patterns of diversity in the kinematics during suction feeding among various species of marine fish, as well as the potential morphological and mechanical correlates of that kinematic data.
Many of the videos that we obtain as a result of this research we upload to our Youtube channel to share with the public, usually the best videos, in focus and lateral. When we film we always try to get focused and lateral sequences for subsequent digitizations. These clear lateral videos allow us to digitize several landmarks on the fish during the strike sequence to get several kinematic variables such as maximum gape, time to pre capture, and ram speed to name a few. But we don’t just need clear lateral videos to showcase on Youtube; we mainly need clear videos to be able to track the landmarks throughout the sequence, and we need lateral videos to obtain accurate kinematics. For example, if the sequences are not clear, it may be harder to track a landmark and there may be more error because the points may drift. If the fish isn’t completely lateral, we may not be able to see all the points, or if the fish as at an angle (going into the third dimension, such as toward the back of the aquarium, which we don’t capture in the 2-dimensional video) the kinematic variables may not be accurate. So, there is a reason for us obtaining these clear lateral videos. However, we also recognize that some of these strike sequences are pretty amazing, so we share them on Youtube.
Lately, our videos (especially the Inermia vittata video you can see in a previous post) have attracted the attention of several science, news and tech blogs. Thank you to all that have posted our videos. However, obtaining these videos is not always easy work, something else that I have learned since being a part of the Wainwright lab. Obtaining these sequences can sometimes (and often) take lots of hours of filming, patience, and hard work. Much of this depends on the fish or the species. Some fish are very good performers, and obtaining several good sequences does not take long (for example the Histrio histrio you can in another previous post). Others require some training to get the fish use to the lights required to capture the sequences at 1000 frames per second. Furthermore, not every fish feeds perfectly lateral every time, or we have multiple individuals in the aquarium that all want food, and the fish themselves are not always perfect. In fact, there are plenty of instances when the predator will miss the prey. This itself is interesting; a former Wainwright Lab member Tim Higham has done some work on the accuracy of strikes, what makes a predator accurate and what can make them miss? Perhaps having a farther strike distance and faster strike velocity decreases accuracy, but to compensate, species have larger gapes to ingest a greater amount of water to increase chances of prey capture (e.g., Higham et al. 2007). We recently posted a video on our Youtube channel of some of these ‘outtakes.’ Again, it is not always easy to capture the clear lateral videos and it takes a lot of work, so this video highlights a ‘bad day at the office’.
So how do we get all these wonderful videos? First, it is almost always a two person job (although Matt has filmed sticklebacks alone). One person feeds the fish, trying to get them in view of the camera, and striking laterally. This job is almost an art form in itself. You have to learn the behavior of the fish; are they sit and wait predators like the frogfish, fast strikers like the white-streaked grouper, or more active swimmers like Inermia vittata? Therefore, the person feeding has to be aware of the fish’s behavior to try and get good sequences. Challenges may also arise is there are multiple individuals.
We want to ensure all fish eat and we want to get sequences from all individuals, so the person feeding has to keep track of the fish or target the various individuals. The other person involved in the process is the person responsible for tracking the prey and predator, focusing the camera and triggering the high-speed camera. This job is also not easy. It takes some skill to track and focus and quickly trigger the camera. We film at 1000 frames per second and many of the videos on Youtube are played back at 10 frames per second. So what do these strikes actually look like in real time, how much time does the person manning the camera have to respond? To demonstrate this we made a video of a full sequence captured during filming, in real time and about 200ms of that sequence played back at 10 frames per second for comparison. The person on camera duty has 3 seconds to trigger. You can see from the video, the person responsible for this part of filming either has, or hopefully obtains quick reflexes!
Although our Youtube channel features some of the best sequences we capture, keep in my mind we always strive to get the best videos. And the next time you see one of our videos on Youtube or elsewhere remember that one video is probably the product of hours of work. I want to also note that many of these videos are the work of undergraduate assistants we have in the lab. Many of our Youtube ‘stars’ were captured by our undergraduates, their assistance has been greatly appreciated and many of these videos would not have been captured without them.