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A day in the life of a marine scientist

Scientists study the deep parts of the ocean and the unusual creatures that live there.

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2:30 p.m. The next mission of our trip begins - to find and pick up a "homer" left in the area six years ago. A homer guides a boat toward it by "pinging" back when contacted. These devices are left with scientific experiments so that the experiments are easily found when it's time to get the results. The batteries that power the "ping" last about two years. Since the batteries in this device no longer work, "we are picking up our trash," Whaling says.

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It is likely that the homer has shifted around quite a bit from its original spot, but we head out to where it was originally left.

Fifteen minutes later, ROV pilots Craig Dawe and D.J. Osborne Jr. use the radar to steer the Ventana probe to areas that look as if they might contain a metal object. Mr. Dawe thinks he's found it - and he has.

The mechanical arms are guided to grab the metal cylinder of the homer. When Ventana emerges, it is grasping a huge robotic fistful of sea anemones that were attached to the homer.

3:30 p.m. Our day's missions accomplished, we begin heading back to shore. The Point Lobos comes out four times a week carrying different scientists who are taking part in a multitude of projects. All of these researchers and engineers are working together and developing cutting-edge technologies to help solve the mysteries of the deep sea.

For more information, see www.mbari.org.

Flashes of brilliance deep in the ocean

Below 200 meters in the ocean, light all but disappears. But there are flashes of brilliance in the dark. Many sea creatures that live at this depth are bioluminescent, which means they make their own light.

With their blinking blue and green lights, many of these gelatinous (jellylike) creatures in the deep ocean look more like spaceships than animals. "When you see one, they really are more bizarre than science fiction could come up with," says Steve Haddock, marine biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

These animals can glow when they are disturbed. They range from radiolarions, creatures that are just a few millimeters wide, to siphonophores, which are related to jellyfish and can grow up to 40 meters. The glowing is like a "kind of a message - don't mess with me," says Dr. Haddock.

Blue-green light is the most common. That is because these colors have a long wavelength in water and are easily spotted by sea creatures.

Some deep-sea animals use the lights for other purposes. Angler fish, for instance, have what looks like a tiny glowing worm held on a miniature fishing pole attached to their heads. It is in just the right place to attract tasty little fish.

The dragonfish has night vision. It uses red light to see into the darkness. Other creatures nearby normally do not see the dragonfish coming because most fish cannot see red light (the wavelength is too short).

But Haddock's team - Dr. Casey Dunn of Yale University, Dr. Philip Pugh of the National Oceanography Centre in Britain, and Christine Schnitzler of MBARI - recently found a siphonophore that broke all the rules. Discovered at 1,600 meters, it had red lights and seemed to be using flickers of its light as a lure for smaller prey.

This discovery has led to more questions. Can some deep-sea fish see red light? Do more bioluminescent creatures use red light than previously thought? Marine biologists are seeing deep-sea life in a new light.

Sources: Dr. Steve Haddock, www.MABARI.com, and www.montereybayaquarium.com

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