OCT 10, 2016 12:11 PM PDT

Underwater aglow: bioluminescence

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Most people have heard, if not seen for themselves, of bioluminescent algae that produce waves of light on the surface of the ocean that can create incredibly beautiful and trippy surfing conditions. (Look up Vaadhoo Island in the Maldives). But what about deeper beneath the water?

In the deep, dark ocean, many sea creatures make their own light for hunting, mating and self-defense. Bioluminescence expert Edith Widder was one of the first to film this glimmering world. In her TED talk, she brings some of her glowing friends onstage in the dark to show the audience, and shows more astonishing footage of glowing undersea life.

Single celled algae called dinoflagellates make light to defend themselves from predators - Widder compares it to a bioluminescent burglary alarm. Other species such as small shrimp and squids can emit a barrage of photon torpedoes to confuse their attackers. It is thought that bioluminescence can even be used as a form of communication between animals - something which Widder has tested using her "Electronic Jellyfish," an electronic lure composed of 16 LEDs that can be programmed to emit different light signals. The video shows imagery of several species interacting with the device through their own bioluminescent chemicals.
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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