Glowing in the Deep

Since I was young I have loved marine creatures. I distinctly remember a book I bought from the National Aquarium in Baltimore (which I’m pretty sure was just the Baltimore Aquarium when I bought this book) that I would spend hours on end flipping through. I loved the days in any science class that we watched films on the ocean and everything in it. And who can forget the iconic scene from Finding Nemo when Dory’s squishy tried to eat her? This brings me to a specific kind of marine animal, those that are bioluminescent.


Why are these mysterious creatures lighting up? Why do most of them, if not all, only inhabit the deepest corners of our seven seas? Are there any oceanic explorations that focused solely on these animals? YouTube video of Bioluminescent animals

According to Discover Magazine online, many of these creatures light up the dark in order to attract prey, attract mates, or as a defense against predators. In one of the various images this site provides it talks about the deep-sea shrimp. This amazing animal releases a “glowing blue ooze” when faced with a predator that stuns it and gives the shrimp times to escape. The tropical mantis shrimp use their bright eyes to communicate with their own species; those of its own species can only detect the light given off.


How these animals light up is due to a chemical reaction. I read up about this on

“For a reaction to occur, a species must contain luciferin, a molecule that, when it reacts with oxygen, produces light. There are different types of luciferin, which vary depending on the animal hosting the reaction. Many organisms also produce the catalyst luciferase, which helps to speed up the reaction.”

Also this site explains that these creatures can control when and sometimes the degree to which they illuminate. This was news to me! Bioluminescence is even found in some sharks, as well as bacteria, algae, jellyfish, worms, and sea stars.

Bioluminescent animals can also light up entire beaches. This occurs because of bioluminescent plankton are “agitated” by crashing waves or even when someone steps on the wet sand or a boat move through the water. These bright beaches depend on the weather and time of year.Beach Bioluminescence


One exploration effort to study these animals occurred in 2009 from July 20th-30th. Simply entitled the Bioluminescence 2009. Some brief information on the explorations and those who led it

“Led by Chief Scientist Tamara Frank (Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution/Florida Atlantic University), Sönke Johnsen (Duke University), Edith Widder (Ocean Research & Conservation Association), Charles Messing (Nova Southeastern University), Steve Haddock (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute), and other investigators will use their combined expertise in bioluminescence, taxonomy, visual ecology, imaging and molecular biology — together with the unique collecting capabilities of the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible — to explore the deep-sea benthic environment for undiscovered “living lights.”” NOAA

I wish I found more information on studies of these fascinating creatures. What we know of them could be completely wrong, yet this is what the public believes and much of the scientific community.