From MV to BBC

09 September, 2009

Jasper Montana
Jasper Montana filming with the BBC in Mongolia.
Source: Jasper Montana

Museum Victoria’s 1854 Scholarships are proving a useful tool for early-career researchers. 2008 recipient Jasper Montana recently reported how the scholarship assisted his research into the Southern Sand Octopus, Octopus kaurna.

The scholarship allowed Jasper to purchase equipment and supplies for his field and laboratory work, in which he studied some amazing and unique octopus behaviour. The Southern Sand Octopus lives in the sand of Port Phillip Bay’s shallows and was originally described in 1990 by Museum Victoria researcher Tim Stranks. Its technique for evading predators - constructing an underground burrow with a collapsible chimney - was previously unknown in cephalopods. The chimney, held together with mucous secretions, allows the Southern Sand Octopus to pump oxygen-rich water into its burrow. When a predator approaches, the octopus destroys the chimney, only to rebuild it when danger has passed. This is very different to the anti-predator strategies of most cephalopods which more typically include jet-propelled escape, repellant ink and rapid colour changes.

This amazing behaviour was recorded using underwater video and still cameras, and further analysed in the lab. Jasper studied film production alongside his science degree and has made short films since the age of ten. “I’ve always tried to tie filming or photography into my scientific study,” said Jasper, who won several awards for his student films, including ATOM Awards in 2003 and 2008, plus inclusion in the 2008 SCINEMA Science Film Festival. Jasper’s interest and aptitude for natural history filmmaking have now taken him to the BBC Natural History Unit, where he coordinates the filming and sound equipment for a new series called Human Planet.

Jasper’s work was co-supervised by Museum Victoria and the University of Melbourne and was awarded a First-class Honours and recognition on the Dean’s Honours List. “I felt incredibly lucky to have Mark Norman, who also has a keen interest in filmmaking and an enormous passion for science, as a co-supervisor, because it allowed me to be creative in the way I approached the research and kept the year constantly fresh and exciting.”

The 1854 Scholarships were established in 2004 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the museum. They are awarded to students undertaking an Honours, Masters or PhD research project related to Museum Victoria’s collections, or in association with a museum researcher. The next round will open in March 2010.

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