Bioluminescence: Living light in the deep sea

A dive into the deep sea is like a trip to outer space. The descent into darkness reveals twinkling lights. Sunlight cannot penetrate to these depths. Instead, this light show comes from the animals that live here. Scientists call it bioluminescence—when living organisms create their own light using a chemical reaction.

Bioluminescence is relatively rare on land, where fireflies, glow worms, and fungi are the most familiar examples. But MBARI researchers have learned bioluminescence is common among deep-sea animals. About three-quarters of life in the water column can produce bioluminescence. The MBARI team is working to decipher the secret language of light in the ocean’s depths.

MBARI bioluminescence research

Glowing to the bottom

October 17, 2019 – MBARI researchers recently found that animals living on the deep seafloor are much less likely to produce light than those swimming or drifting in the “midwater.”

The curious eyes of the cockeyed squid

Feb 13, 2017 - New research findings highlight a unique visual adaptation in a deep-sea squid, the cockeyed squid, which has eyes that are grossly different in size and structure.

Amazing "black sea devil" anglerfish observed in Monterey Bay

Nov 19, 2014 – On Monday, November 17, MBARI Senior Scientist Bruce Robison was leading a dive using the remotely operated vehicle Doc Ricketts in Monterey Bay when he came across this amazing deep-sea anglerfish about 580 meters (1,900 feet) below the ocean surface.

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