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COMPUTING

From...
PC World

Does a bear sleep on the Web?

graphic

December 22, 1999
Web posted at: 9:21 a.m. EST (1421 GMT)

by James A. Martin

(IDG) -- Prevailing wisdom says when the weather grows cold, bears curl up in caves and go night-night until spring. But it's hard to hang out in a bear's cave all winter to watch. How do we know the big furry mammals aren't actually playing canasta?

The mystery of bear hibernation is about to be solved with the help of an infrared camera, a plastic tube, and a female black bear named Whiteheart.

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Biologists have placed a weatherproof infrared camera, by way of a plastic tube, into Whiteheart's cave in Minnesota as part of their research for a documentary on bear hibernation. The camera will transmit continually refreshed images of the bear's hibernation to Discovery.com until the bear wakes up in the spring.

Whiteheart's respite is said to be the Web's first live "bear cam" experience. It's also the first time an infrared camera has been used to monitor a bear's entire hibernation in the wild. Biologists hope to observe the bear's breathing and movements during the hibernation. They also believe Whiteheart is pregnant and is likely to give birth during her rest period--an event that could provide some added drama for bear-cam followers.

The infrared camera is a custom version of an underwater camera, which was originally developed to let fishermen see the terrain of lake bottoms. The camera can record images in total darkness. To achieve higher resolution, the images transmitted are black and white.

The camera is mounted inside a 6-inch piece of plastic pipe, swathed in sponge insulation, and placed inside a second pipe.

"We had to make the lens recessed, so that the bear wouldn't lick the lens," camera operator Doug Hajicek explains. Hajicek hooked the camera up to a 450-foot cable and connected the cable to a video monitor inside a backwoods cabin.

So what does a hibernating bear look like on the Web? Given that the images are murky and black and white, Whiteheart resembles a Rorschach test--those vague inkblots that psychiatric patients are asked to interpret--more than she does a sleeping bear. Luckily, the researchers are also recording her hibernation on video for the documentary. The film is set to air in January 2001 on the Animal Planet cable network.

The Bear Cam is one of several wild kingdom cameras at Discovery.com. Others include the Puppy Cam, Kitty Cam, Bird Feeder Cam, Shark Cam, Sun Cam, Loch Ness Cam, and, the wildest of all, the Las Vegas Wedding Cam.


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