By Bryant Turffs
In summer 2021 The Florida Manta Project teamed up with the Angari Foundation and Digital Life to create the world’s first digital anatomically accurate and animated model of a manta ray. The goal, in addition to being cool, was to create a freely accessible resource that could aid in education, outreach, and conservation.
The Florida Manta Project (FMP), part of the Marine Megafauna Foundation, is the first and only dedicated manta ray research project in the state of Florida. The project’s research findings to date include the discovery that coastal South Florida is a nursery habitat for juvenile manta rays and that these young rays are threatened by anthropogenic interactions like fishing line entanglement and boat strikes. Further details of the project and its accomplishments can be found in a previous article, Uncovering the Unexpected with the Florida Manta Project.
Team Members from left, Vicky Fong (FMP), Jessica Pate (FMP), Duncan Irschick (Digital Life), and Bryant Turffs (FMP).
To create the 3D model we spent two weeks in the field searching for, filming, and photographing mantas. We captured underwater video with GoPros and detailed still images with my Canon 7D Mark II in its Ikelite housing. Background information about wingbeat frequency was also gathered from the project’s database of drone video. Having filmed multiple individuals we chose to use the media captured of a single 2.5 meter juvenile manta ray named Skye for the creation of the model. His tolerance of our crew had allowed for the best media capture.
An identification shot of Skye showing his unique ventral markings. © 2022 Bryant Turffs
Digital Life’s team then used this information, media, and a technique called photogrammetry to create the model. Photogrammetry is the process of extracting 3D information from photographs and video, which can be used to create detailed three dimensional models of seascapes, wrecks, and in our case organisms. Speaking on the Wetpixel live YouTube series leading underwater photographer Alex Mustard called photogrammetry “one of the most exciting things… to happen in underwater photography” in recent history. The results of this project lead me to agree.
The completed model of Skye features realistic movements and dimensions. He swims, his mouth opens and closes, and his cephalic fins furl and unfurl. His coloration and markings, down to a scar from boat propellor across his back, are true to life. The model is available freely online for viewing, creative, and non-profit use. It can also be licensed through Digital Life’s website. Our hope is that Skye, the model, can serve as an ambassador and creative tool in raising awareness about conservation issues facing manta rays in the wild.
Learn more about this project via the Angari Foundations video below.
Ambassador Bryant Turffs has worked on six of the seven continents as a biologist, boat captain, dive professional, commercial fisherman, photographer, and educator. Today he lives in Palm Beach County, Florida, and works with his partner, Jessica Pate, to understand the mysteries of the local manta ray population. He also uses his photography to tell other natural history and conservation stories. Read more...
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