Virtual Fish Tank (1998)

March 29, 2008

The Virtual Fish Tank is an interactive, educational museum exhibit that was originally displayed at the Boston Computer Museum in 1998 and later moved to the Boston Museum of Science. As their website reports, this exhibit represents a shift in the presentation of scientific knowledge from “merely” observational to “interactive” scientific (and underwater) education.

In both the exhibit and the website later based on it, users build virtual fish by adjusting a variety of parameters (e.g. how much it likes bubbles, how hungry it is) and then let the fish loose in an aquarium simulation.

Virtual Fish Tank

The focus is not so much on immersion (for example, as in Sharkbait), but on the interaction and agency afforded the user. This interaction is seen as the best way to involve and educate them with ocean animals and ecologies.


Yellow Submarine (Dunning, 1968)

March 28, 2008

Animated film featuring the Beatles, based on their hit song “Yellow Submarine.” Also draws from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Yellow Submarine

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Verne, 1870)

March 28, 2008

Classic science fiction novel by Jules Verne that has been adapted in a number of other underwater mediations.

One of the things that strikes me, reading this from a media studies perspective, is the key role that electricity plays in the wonder and spectacle of the undersea vessel, the Nautilus. Captain Nemo explains the workings of the Nautilus (in a chapter titled “All by Electricity”:

“There is a powerful agent, obedient,rapid, easy, which conforms to every use, and reigns supreme on board my vessel. Everything is done by means of it. It lights it, warms it, and is the soul of my mechanical apparatus. This agent is electricity” (79).

At the same time as undersea exploration is aligned closely with (and only made possible by) a new technology, it resembles the shape of a whale, and is animal-like in many ways.

Some film adaptations: Georges Melies in 1907, Stuart Paton in 1916, Richard Fleischer (and Walt Disney) in 1954, and Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. (animated) in 1973.

Submarine Film Corporation (est. 1914)

March 18, 2008

In 1914, J.Ernest and George M. Williamson established the Submarine Film Corporation. They devised a special observation chamber called the “photosphere” that could descend up to 150 feet and had a small window for shooting.

Some of their films:
Thirty Leagues under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1916)
The Submarine
Eye (1917)
A Deep-Sea Tragedy (1917)
Girl of the Sea (1920)
Wet Gold (1921)
Wonders of the Sea (1922) – part fiction, part autobiographical documentary
The Uninvited Guest (1924) – in Technicolor
Field Museum-Williamson Undersea Expedition to the Bahamas (1929) – brought his daughter, Sylvia in the photosphere.
With Williamson beneath the Sea (1932) – a documentary on his work, also with Sylvia

Williamson’s photosphere, and his films, helped to spur a whole underwater film genre.

More information can be found in Brian Taves’s article: “With Williamson Beneath the Sea.” Journal of Film Preservation, Volume XXV No 52 (April 1996).

Sharkbait (1996)

March 16, 2008

The Mandala Gesture Xtreme (GX) System was created in 1996 by Toronto based computer entertainment company, the Vivid Group. Mandala is able to track the player’s movements without having to wear, touch or hold anything. Sharkbait was one of a number of games/virtual environments created for this computer vision based virtual reality system. It allows the user to engage in virtual contact sea animals and to seek out treasure; users must collect stars as they sink and avoid eels and sharks that swim by.

It was installed in Taiwan at the Taichung Ocean Aquarium as part of an interactive exhibit, and overall, seems to be used in conjunction with scientific and educational exhibits.


Thanks to Lisa Shapiro for pointing this one out.

Little Mermaid Oceans Awareness

March 14, 2008

The Ad Council paired up with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (NMSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Environmental Defense and Disney to promote ocean awareness.

The result were PSAs with characters from The Little Mermaid and messages about marine debris.

Keep Oceans Clean online game


Bonaire ReefCam

March 13, 2008

In 2000, an underwater ReefCam was installed in Bonaire, an island in the Netherland Antilles. According to the Bonaire webcam site, as of 2005 the ReefCam has been the longest running open-water (and underwater) webcam.

Here is the account of the process from the site:

“The planning of the Bonaire WebCams project started during the summer of 1999, when Dan Senie and Jake Richter, long time friends and graduates of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute were talking about the new leased line Internet connection Dan had just helped Jake install in his office on the Caribbean island of Bonaire. The idea came about as a result of Dan wanting to relive his visits to Bonaire, combined with the great weather and excellent diving Bonaire is known for.

Dan and Jake concluded that a WebCam would be the best way to tame Bonaire-envy, but that a typical WebCam installation, where you have a single, low-resolution camera mounted inside a window, was not the way to go. Putting their know how together with their diving experience (Jake is a certified dive instructor and Dan an avid advanced diver), they set about trying to design a system which could be installed above the reef slope behind Jake’s office/house, in open water.”

Interesting here is that the cams are installed in order to generate a sort of tele-presence, to quell “Bonaire-envy.” And they are approved because of the benefits to tourism. Who watches these cams? What sort of media practices are these images used in (e.g. postings in Bonaire Talk; or the ReefCam Critter Gallery).


More info on the project history page.