Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Bioluminescence and Biodiversity Expedition 2007
DATES: July 27 - August 1, 2007

Cruise Description


  1. Investigate bioluminescence and fluorescence in gelatinous organisms, with an emphasis on species that live at depths below 1500m (5000ft).
  2. Assess the biodiversity of midwater and deep-sea gelatinous organisms.
  3. Examine the associations that occur between gelatinous zooplankton and crustaceans, particularly amphipods.


On this cruise we will explore the depths of the Pacific Ocean off the California coast to investigate the biodiversity and bio-optical properties of gelatinous organisms. The term "deep-sea bidiversity" is commonly used without mention of any of the numerous taxa living in the water-column, and the diversity of the midwater habitat has only received peripheral attention, even though it is by far the largest habitat on earth. Through the use of submersible technology, we know now that many deep midwater plankton communities are dominated by gelatinous zooplankton and the diversity of animals with gelatinous bodies is very large. In order to understand the role of gelatinous organisms in deep-sea, to detect changes in marine communities, and to estimate the amount of living matter contained in the oceans, it is first essential to know what species are out there.

Bio-optical properties include bioluminescence, fluorescence, and pigmentation. Bioluminescence refers to light produced by a chemical reaction which originates in an organism. Although people most commonly experience it as a brilliantly illuminated wake of a ship or in waves crashing on the seashore, it is actually the predominant source of light in the deep ocean. Organisms ranging from bacteria to single-celled protists to jellies, squid and fish can make their own "living light". In comparison, fluorescence is when external light energy is absorbed and immediataely re-emitted as a different wavelength, for example with a multi-colored "blacklight" painting. Many chemicals found in marine mammals exhibit fluorescence when illuminated with a blue or violet light. We are investigataing the functions and chemical origins of this light.


The organisms that we are most interested in collecting are ctenophores, siphonophores, radiolarians, cephalopods, and amphipods that live on gelatinous zooplankton. To do this, we will use MBARI's remotely operated vehicle (ROV), Tiburon. Tiburon dives will be conducted on a daily basis to the ocean floor (often >3000m/9900 ft). The ROV is equipped with a midwater tool sled that will allow us to collect fragile gelatinous organisms without harming them by using a combination of Detritus Samplers and a Suction Sampler. Detritus samplers are large Plexiglas containers with lids that can be manipulated by the pilot of the ROV and gently closed once an organism is trapped inside. The suction sampler can suck up an organism like a vacuum cleaner and deposit it in a bucket on a carousel, which then rotates to seal the used bucket and provide a clean one for the next sample. We have also adapted the tool sled with a "spatulator", a spatula attached to the vehicle that assists in plankton collection on or near the bottom. This cruise is particularly exciting because for the first time we will be testing our blue-LED system for fluorescence imaging on the ROV. Bright LED lights will be attached to the ROV Tiburon and illuminated at depth to look for fluorescence in gelatinous organisms.

We will also be collecting shallow-water organisms via blue-water SCUBA dives every morning (weather permitting). Blue-water diving simply refers to SCUBA diving away from shore over deep water and, because the bottom is not visible or within diving depth, it requires some different techniques for keeping divers together and oriented. For more information on blue-water diving, see the publication, Scientific blue-water diving, by S.H.D. Haddock & J.N. Heine. Five divers (Steven Haddock, Alison Sweeney, Brad Seibel, Leanne Birden, and Dan Swezey) will collect plankton by hand using glass jars. In the evenings, trawls (large nets towed through the water) will be conducted to collect fluorescent midwtaer fish, jellies, and amphipods. Dr. Brad Seibel and Dr. Alison Sweeney, scientists on the cruise who are interested in the morphological and metabolic adaptations of deep-sea squid, will be jigging for the jumbo squid Dosidicus gigas using glowing lures on the end of hand-lines.

Planned Transit

== Jul 27:
0900 Depart Moss Landing
Transit 36 miles to: TibN25k - 36°42.00'N - 122°34.50'W -2500m
1300 ROV dive
2030 Trawl to 400m
2200 Jigging for Squid

== Jul 28
0001 Transit 59 miles to: Tib3c - 36°07.00'N - 123°33.00'W
0700 Deep ROV dive
0900 Blue-water dive
2000 Trawl to 1000m
2300 Jigging for Squid

== Jul 29
0200 Transit 38 miles to: Tib3b - 35°29.00'N - 123°39.00'W
0700 Deep ROV dive
0900 Blue-water dive
2100 Trawl to 400m
2300 Jigging for Squid

== Jul 30
0200 Transit 46 miles to: Davidson - 35°38.00'N -122°44.00'W ~2770m
0700 Deep ROV dive
0900 Blue-water dive
2100 Trawl to 500m
2300 Jigging for Squid

== Jul 31
0700 Transit 13 miles to: Davidson2 - 35°50.00'N -122°40.00'W ~2725m
0700 Deep ROV dive
0900 Blue-water dive
2100 Trawl to 300m
2300 Jigging for Squid

== Aug 1
0100 Transit 33 miles to: Hadd3250 - 36°23.00'N - 122°40.00'W ~3250m
0600 Medium (2200m) ROV dive (note time)
0900 Blue-water dive
1600 Transit 47 miles to Moss Landing
2100 Arrive Moss Landing

Further Reading

  • MBARI story on 2006 expedition.
  • Nouvian, C. (2007) The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss. University of Chicago Press, 256 pgs.
  • Haddock, S.H.D., C.W. Dunn, P.R. Pugh, and C.E. Schnitzler(2005) Bioluminescent and red-fluorescent lures in a deep-sea siphonophore. Science. 309:263. [Article-pdf]
  • Gasca, R., E. Suarez-Morales, S.H.D. Haddock (2007) Symbiotic associations between crustaceans and gelatinous zooplankton in deep and surface waters off California. Marine Biology 151:233-242 [Article-pdf]
  • Haddock, S.H.D. and J.N. Heine (2005) Scientific blue-water diving. California Sea Grant, La Jolla, California. [Reference]
  • Seibel, B.A., B.H. Robison, S.H.D. Haddock (2005) Post-spawning egg care by a squid. Nature 438:929 [Article-pdf]
  • Seibel, B.A. and J.C. Drazen. in press. A review of metabolism in deep-sea organisms: Environmental constraints or energetic opportunities? Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond [Summary].

Click on the links above to find out more about this exciting cruise!