What’s the best way to explore the dark secrets of the deep ocean? With the lights off.
And from the dark, marine biologist Edie Widder has brought amazing discoveries to light. She is our gamechanger for January here at Discovery News as we launch a new feature this year focusing on people who have stimulated our curiosity.
Widder’s deep-sea observation system, called Eye-in-the-Sea, helped capture breath-taking, unprecedented video footage of the giant squid (Architeuthis dux), an elusive creature previously photographed alive only once in 2004.
As a submersible diver she questioned just how much she was missing by plunging into the depths of the ocean with the lights blaring.
“The first deep dive I made was in the single-person submersible Wasp. When I turned out the lights and saw all the bioluminescence that seemed to be everywhere I looked, I was hooked. The experience changed the course of my career,” she told NOAA Ocean Explorer.
She had started her career with a Ph.D in neurobiology, intending to get inside the heads of marine animals. To explore her interest in bioluminescence, she attached red lights to cameras that could record and measure dim lights. The red lights are virtually undetectable to deep-sea organisms, which have evolved in the dark to detect the blue-green flashes of bioluminescence. With these tools she learned of the habits of those creatures most familiar with lighting the dark.
One particular type of jellyfish would light up when attacked and Widder theorized the bioluminescent fireworks display was an act to attract bigger predators to eat the attacker.
If the food chain follows with this type of jellyfish sounding the visual alarm and bringing in bigger and bigger predators, with each larger predator disturbing the water column more and causing even greater displays of bioluminesence, what happens when a video camera mimicking the attacked biolumenescent spectacle of the jellyfish is dangled 2,300 feet deep from a buoy off Japan’s Ogasawara Islands, a known hunting region for the giant squid?
Exactly what you hope for.
And while the videos she and her team of oceanographers have captured give us a peek into the behavior of these mysterious deep predators, many more questions about the giant squid remain to be answered.
Gamechangers like Widder help us all see the mysteries of our planet in a new light.
As she reported to NOAA Ocean Explorer: “I love learning new things and I love exploring. Those would be rewards enough, but the icing on the cake is the amazing light show I see every time I make a dive in a submersible and turn out the lights. It still thrills me.”
IMAGE: Edie Widder (Courtesy of NOAA)