Bioluminescence 2009: Living light on the deep-sea floor

Light produced by living organisms (bioluminescence) in the sea is almost entirely known from creatures, from bacteria to fishes, living in the water above the bottom. As much as 90% of the animals living in the pelagic realm are bioluminescent. On this expedition, funded by NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research, I accompanied lead scientist Tammy Frank (Nova Southeastern University), Sönke Johnsen (Duke University), Edie Widder (Ocean Research and Conservation Association), and Steve Haddock (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute) to explore deep environments off the Bahamas in a search for creatures of the sea floor that also produce living light. Using our combined expertise in bioluminescence, taxonomy, visual ecology, imaging and molecular biology, aboard the submersible Johnson Sea-Link II at depths reaching almost 1000 meters, we discovered bioluminescent anemones, shrimps, brittlestars, and gold coral, as well as a new species of sea lily, feather star, sea fan, and crab. Some results have been published as Johnsen S, Frank TM, Haddock SHD, Widder EA, Messing CG (2012) Light and vision in the deep-sea benthos: I. Bioluminescence at 500–1000 m depth in the Bahamian Islands. Journal of Experimental Biology 215:3335-3343. For more, see: http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/09bioluminescence/