Posts Tagged 'bioluminescence'

A Blue View: Mysteries of the Deep

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

February 5, 2014: Mysteries of the Deep

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss
what we know and have yet to
discover about the deep sea!

Thousands of feet beneath the surface of the ocean, animals live, even thrive, in conditions that are impossible for most of us to even imagine.

Our blue planet is indeed a water planet, yet incredibly, over 90 percent of the ocean remains unexplored and unseen by humans. In a world that’s increasingly tamed and catalogued, it’s astounding to learn that there have been only two journeys to the ocean’s greatest depth, Challenger Deep, off the Mariana Islands—in 1960 and 2012. That first epic descent occurred in 1960…before we’d even ventured into space!

deepsea challenger

The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER.

At that deepest point, the dark waters of the ocean extend 36,000 feet down—nearly 7 miles. For comparison, the recommended maximum depth for recreational scuba divers is just 130 feet. Photosynthesis is no longer possible at 650 feet, with sunlight gradually diminishing until approximately 3,300 feet, below which, no light ever penetrates.

But far, far down at the bottom of the ocean is an environment unlike any other place on earth. It is frigid—between 30 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit, but never frozen, because salt lowers the freezing point of seawater. The complete darkness is broken only by the light emitted by animals themselves, called bioluminescence. And the intense pressure at these depths is the equivalent of supporting 50 jets on your back!

Obviously, there’s a lot we don’t know about this mysterious region—earth’s largest habitat. Experts believe that up to two-thirds of the plant and animal species in the world ocean may still await our discovery, with as many as one million species of non-bacterial life yet to be identified. In other words, we’ve only scratched the surface.

Most deep-sea creatures are transparent, black, or red, allowing for effective camouflage since red is invisible at these depths. Some, like the bioluminescent lanternfish, send messages to other animals or attract prey via their light-emitting organs. Species like the vampire squid have huge eyes that enable them to use what little light exists, while others have no eyes at all, instead employing smell, touch, and vibration to visualize their surroundings.

A vampire squid. Image via National Geographic.

A vampire squid. Image via National Geographic.

As a result, many of these creatures are unable to survive the trip up to the surface when collected for research purposes, so scientists who study these marine species now use pressurized containers to replicate their environment.

Increasingly, deep-sea submersibles, both manned and unmanned, are making the long journey to the deep ocean, enhancing our knowledge exponentially with each dive. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they will discover next.

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Thoughtful Thursday: New Biofluorescent Species Discovered!

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) announced today that a team of researchers and scientists has identified close to 200 species of biofluorescent fish!

**All images via American Museum of Natural History/National Geographic. 

Biofluorescence refers to an organism’s process of absorbing light, transforming it and ejecting it as a different color. This process is different from bioluminescence, which is the conversion of chemical energy into light. (Check out our infographic to learn all about bioluminescence!)

These 180 species of biofluorescent fish glow in a wide range of colors and patterns. The science community is still hypothesizing over the exact purpose of the light, potential uses include everything from communication to mating.

Did you know? Although it covers more than 70 percent of our planet’s surface, over 90 percent of the ocean remains unexplored. In that uncharted world, experts believe that up to two-thirds of the ocean’s plant and animal species still await our discovery!

To get more information on AMNH’s research on biofluorescence, click here.

A Blue View: Inside Bioluminescence

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

January 2, 2014: Inside Bioluminescence

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss the amazing
phenomenon that is bioluminescence! 

In the ocean’s deepest reaches, sunlight cannot penetrate, and yet, there is light. From softly glowing to dazzlingly brilliant, it is not the light of humans and their machines. It is called bioluminescence—literally, “living light”—and it provides a bewildering variety of species the means to seek prey and elude predators in a world as alien to us as space.

Check out our infographic on this fascinating phenomenon: 

national aquarium bioluminescence infographic

Bioluminescence occurs when living creatures convert chemical energy to light energy, resulting in the production and emission of light. Here in the mid-Atlantic, we experience bioluminescence in our own backyards on many a summer evening. Fireflies are among the few terrestrial species that glow, joined by certain species of bacteria, insects, and fungi. Beyond these, there are few other bioluminescent animals found on land.

Under the sea, however, it is a remarkably different story. An estimated 90 percent of deep-sea marine creatures are able to produce bioluminescence in some way. Most emit blue or green hued light, though some creatures employ a red-light strategy—taking advantage of the fact that red is the first color in the spectrum to be refracted.

In the deep, where food is scarce and conditions unforgiving, bioluminescence is critical to the survival of countless aquatic species.
For those defending themselves against predators, bioluminescence can be used to distract or even divert attention. Bomber worms actually eject glowing green masses that redirect a predator’s attention!

Other marine animals use the light as a lure to find food. Consider the anglerfish, which has a light rod protruding from its head. This light coaxes prey to come closer, at which point the anglerfish snaps its impressive jaws around its meal. Certain squids flash light to stun their prey.

In one of the most fascinating uses of bioluminescence, counter-illumination, the light pattern on the bottom of a fish replicates the appearance of faint sunlight from above, so the fish is invisible to predators looking for food from below.

For all we’ve learned, we still known very little about how these mysterious creatures use their bioluminescent capabilities, and access to these incredible animals is a challenge for researchers. The very qualities that make them so fascinating also make them almost impossible to study.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other organizations are researching this deep frontier in an effort to better understand the 90 percent of the ocean yet unexplored.

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Animal Updates – September 13

Between our Baltimore and Washington, DC, venues, more than 17,500 animals representing 900 species call the National Aquarium home. There are constant changes, additions, and more going on behind the scenes that our guests may not notice during their visit. We want to share these fun updates with our community so we’re bringing them to you in our weekly Animal Update posts!

Check our blog every Friday to find out what’s going on… here’s what’s new this week!

Leidy’s comb jellies on exhibit! 

leidy's comb jelly

These amazing creatures can now be seen in  Jellies Invasion: Oceans out of Balance!

Did you know? Leidy’s comb jellies are bioluminescent, meaning they can make their own light (which they flash when disturbed).

leidy's comb jelly

This species looks different from other jellies because it’s not made up of a bell and tentacles. Instead, it is a translucent walnut-shaped body with wart-like bumps. For this reason, it’s sometimes called a sea walnut.

They make look “out-of-this-world,” but the natural range of this species is much closer than you think! They’re commonly found in the coastal waters of the Atlantic, from Cape Cod down to the Carolinas.

Be sure to check back every Friday to find out what’s happening!


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