Round Island Fox Help Publicize Documentary in the Works

Jul 24, 2014

A YouTube video of a fox on Round Island shows him playing with a GoPro camera.  The camera is getting footage for a bigger project that will look at the wildlife in Alaska.

Imagine a grassy field with a narrow path.  Suddenly a fox appears in the distance.  He’s curious and kind of adorable.  He jaunts over to your two or three hundred dollar camera, licks it, then picks it up with its mouth and runs away.

Credit Jonathan VanBallenberghe

The fox stops, drops the camera, and bites at the camera until the lens pops off.  Finally, the fox gets bored and simply leaves the camera on the ground and wanders off like he didn’t just commit theft in the third degree. You find your GoPro, mangled but still working, with great footage of an inquisitive fox’s mouth.  What do you do with that footage?

Jonathan VanBallenberghe was born and raised in Alaska.  He currently lives in Arizona with his wife and the two are cofounders of Open Lens Productions. The independent production company focuses on documentaries, commercial videos, wildlife cinematography and something called full dome shows.

“We use a camera that has six GoPros mounted on it.  They are pointed in every direction and this gets us a 360 degree video clip that you stitch together and then project on the dome.”

A dome is usually like a planetarium dome.  The images are projected on the all-encompassing ceiling, and the audience leans back in the comfy chairs and watches all angles of a wildlife scene. 

He’s working with University of Alaska Anchorage professor Travis Rector, to create   a wildlife documentary on Round Island and the animals that inhabit it.  For five days this month, VanBallenberghe recorded the wildlife on the island, especially the walruses.

“So after filming walruses day in and day out, we quickly noticed another amazing animal on the island, it’s these foxes.  There are about 30 foxes on the island.  They follow you around on the island, you’ll sense some movement behind you and you’ll look and there’s a fox there.  And it’s not begging, they really are just plain interested.”

He says the fox that stole his camera wasn’t actually trying to eat it.  Foxes on Round Island have a plentiful diet of seabirds including puffins and seagulls. 

Because the Alaska Department of Fish and Game strives to prevent people from feeding the foxes, the relationship these animals have with humans is pretty nonchalant.  VanBallenberghe says this and the fact that the fox doesn’t have a predator to worry about on Round Island makes them curious and adventurous. 

“Within five minutes of being on the island, I took out my microphone to put on the camera but something interesting was happening with the walruses so I put the microphone down behind me.  And a few seconds later I heard this sound and I looked behind me to see the microphone in the mouth of a fox.  It looked like a dog would look that was going for a chew toy.”

With the exception of the full-dome camera, VanBallenberghe only used two cameras-- one of which was the GoPro the sly fox carried away. He and Rector are now looking for funding to edit and produce the film that will be 25 minutes long.  For more information visit the University of Alaska Anchorage website.