Date: April 10, 2017
Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Ever since explorer William Beebe descended into the depths in a metal sphere in the 1930s, marine biologists have been astounded by the number and diversity of glowing animals in the ocean. Yet few studies have actually documented the numbers of glowing animals at different depths. In a new study in Scientific Reports, MBARI researchers Séverine Martini and Steve Haddock show that three quarters of the animals in Monterey Bay waters between the surface and 4,000 meters deep can produce their own light.
You would think it would be easy to count the number of glowing (bioluminescent) animals in the ocean, just by looking at videos or photographs taken at different depths. Unfortunately, very few cameras are sensitive enough to show the pale glow of many marine animals. Below 300 meters (1,000 feet) the ocean is essentially pitch black, so animals don't need to glow very brightly. Also most animals don't glow continuously because making light takes extra energy and can attract predators.
Because of the difficulty in counting glowing animals at depth, most previous estimates of the proportion of glowing animals were based on qualitative observations made by researchers peering out the windows of submersibles. Martini and Haddock's study is the first ever quantitative analysis of the numbers and types of individual glowing animals at different depths.