An expedition conducted by amateur scientists follows in Charles Darwin’s footsteps

expedition conducted by amateur scientists white sailboat on body of water
Photo by Matheus Guimarães on

An expedition conducted by amateur scientists follows in Charles Darwin’s footsteps

Scientist Eduardo Sampaio studied octopuses off the coast of Cape Verde. He took part in an excursion conducted by Citizen Science that followed Charles Darwin’s route.

Eduardo Sampaio is certain that Charles Darwin would have been delighted if he had the chance to dive off the Cape Verde Islands because Darwin would have observed a fascinating, species-rich landscape. He lacked the diving gear, though. As a result, Darwin characterized Cape Verde as having a desolate landscape in his notes for The Voyage of the Beagle.

Eduardo Sampaio, an affiliate member of the University of Konstanz’s “Center for the Advanced Study of Collective Behavior” Cluster of Excellence, had a quite different experience. Victor Rault, a filmmaker, extended an invitation to him to continue his octopus study on the ship Captain Darwin.

In 2021, 30-year-old Victor Rault set sail aboard the Captain Darwin out of Plymouth, continuing the legacy of Darwin’s HMS Beagle. Since Darwin’s journey on the HMS Beagle in 1832, he wants to investigate how the ecology has altered. To travel and carry out experiments in the spirit of Darwin, researchers and citizens are welcome.

The researchers realized right away that it is a great idea to follow Charles Darwin’s footsteps.

On the Captain Darwin, Eduardo Sampaio stayed for eleven days. The Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior’s scientist was interested in the dives because she wanted to see how octopuses and fish cooperated in hunting. It was breeding season, so the animals seldom ever appeared. If they emerged, they had little interest in hunting and just sought to communicate with other octopuses.

He impulsively abandoned his original study plan and carried out a mirror experiment in its place. The researchers wanted to investigate if the octopuses could recognize that they were looking at another person in the mirror.  The crew on board examined the camera footage in the evening. The octopus only changed color on the side facing the mirror as it got closer to the reflection.  The purpose of this new experiment is to see if the octopuses can even recognize themselves.

Eduardo Sampaio read The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in the evenings because it stimulated him.  He frequently pondered how can they modernize Darwin’s style of scientific study to take use of the new techniques today, like machine learning and computer vision, to better comprehend how animals move in their natural environments or utilize various tactics to exploit social information.  He is still searching for an explanation, but it could come to him the next time he travels aboard the Captain Darwin.

Sampaio will be on the Captain Darwin again. The researchers said that the  journey, started as a Citizen Science initiative, is a tremendous help for researchers who don’t have the resources to perform this sort of field study, especially for researchers from underprivileged regions and in countries where research structures are not so well-equipped.

It was done a lot of the labor that researchers often had to do themselves, such getting permission, buying equipment, and raising money. Eduardo Sampaio, who thinks that this sailing excursion will be the beginning of future interesting Citizen Research excursions said that, he also discovered that individuals can play a far more active part in science than merely collecting data.

Keywords: amateur scientists follows Charles Darwin


Sampaio E, Rault V (2022). Citizen-led expeditions can generate scientific knowledge and prospects for researchers. PLoS Biol 20(11): e3001872.

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