2.1 Unobtrusive Observation
or "The Spy Who Went Out In the Cold"
The shores and oceans around Antarctica are home to about 100 fish species;
six seal species, comprising two-thirds of the world's seals; several
whale species, including the blue, fin, sei, humpback, sperm and right
whales; more than 50 species of birds, including seven penguin species,
which make up the largest percentage: the total population of birds breeding
on Antarctica is estimated at over 100 million. Current and potential
threats to Antarctica include exploitation of wildlife through over-fishing
and hunting; an uncontrolled influx of tourists; destruction of the ozone
layer and the resulting increase in ultra-violet radiation which could
impact the phytoplankton upon which krill feed, and thus affect the food
web of the Southern Ocean; and mining of the continent's anticipated mineral
wealth (currently restricted by the Antarctic Treaty).
All researchers in Antarctica operate under the terms of the Antarctic
Conservation Act, an extension of the Antarctic Treaty. The USAP has especially
strict guidelines about "taking" wildlife, which is defined
as anything which changes their behavior, from disturbing creatures while
filming them to necessary direct contact as when obtaining blood or other
physiological samples for research purposes. This Activity puts students
in the shoes of researchers who need to get up close and personal with
wildlife, without changing natural behavior more than is absolutely required.
Students will collect behavioral data on domestic "wildlife"
and "animal behavior", exposing themselves to problems inherent
in unobtrusive close observation.
- wrist or pocket watch with automatic alarm feature
- small notebook and pencil to record observations
Post the questions below and allow students 2-3 minutes to write their
responses. Ask students how accurate these observations are? Are they
"scientific?" "Objectively correct?" Why or why not?
- Where were you and what were you doing at exactly 7:25 a.m. today?
- At 1:18 p.m. last Saturday?
- Who was you with?
- Without looking down, what color are the socks you put on this morning?
Researchers interested in animal behavior train themselves to observe
their surroundings with care. With some of the skills and hi-tech tools
of James Bond, Agent 007, scientists are environmental spies who use whatever
is available-from their senses to computers to satellites-to help them
understand the creatures they're studying, without changing their behavior
by the very act of studying them. Have students brainstorm real-world
examples of such tracking. Some examples might include: the annual Audubon
Christmas Bird Count; whale watching; one-way windows in research centers,
lab schools and hospitals; hidden cameras in department stores; satellite
tracking systems, sonar and radar. Once the "raw data" is collected,
researchers organize and work on it until they see meaningful patterns
in graphs or statistics, which allow them to make predictions about future
behavior which can be tested. If the predictions are confirmed, then researchers
can begin to postulate conclusions.
- Distribute Activity 2.1 Student Worksheet,
"Unobtrusive Observation". Allow time for students to read;
discuss procedural steps and answer questions. Decide on appropriate
date by which all students will have completed the assignment.
- When all students have completed this Activity, schedule time for
sharing experiences. What general conclusions can be drawn? Discuss
problems students may have encountered in observing humans-what parallels
can be made in regard to observing animals in their natural habitats?
Observing and Recording Animal Behavior
- Working in pairs, students can unobtrusively observe a preschool or
kindergarten class during free play, either in class, or on the playground.
Record individual differences in behavior. Are some children aggressive?
Non-aggressive? Watchful? Impulsive? Social? Loners? Are there gender
differences? Are there correlations of behavior with size?
- Next, arrange for the teacher to quietly place a bag of lollipops
or M&M's in a prominent place in the room where anyone can take
one. Observe and note what happens in terms of traffic patterns. How
does the introduction of a food cache change animal behavior?
- Have students be on the lookout for the different sampling and observation
techniques employed by the researchers seen during LFA 2, and write
an essay on the "Perils and Pleasures of Observing Antarctic Wildlife"
as part of a Closing Activity.
Have students create and compare different types of graphs showing how
they use their time (sleeping, reading, eating, studying, watching TV,
WhaleNet's STOP (Satellite Tagging Observation Program) whale and seal
tracking via satellite
Australia's Antarctic Research Division: current research on seals, penguins,
Last Update: 1/18/97
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