Light-up wonders, deep sea explorers, jelly apps: Marine biology at the Bone Room

Pub date February 26, 2013
SectionPixel Vision

You don’t have to travel far to enter foreign waters. Just a few miles off San Francisco shores lies a world more alien to us than anything dreamed up by the likes of Ridley Scott or James Cameron. And as Doctor Steve Haddock of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute told us in his lecture, entitled “No Bones About It: The Diversity of Gelatinous Invertebrates in the Deep Sea” at Berkeley’s Bone Room last Thursday night, this world — otherwise known as Monterey Bay — holds 4,000 meters of uncharted underwater territory , miles of yet-to-be-discovered ecosystems, organisms, and almost unimaginable possibilities of new life.

Monterey Bay is one of the most biologically diverse bodies of waters in the world due to the massive sub-oceanic Monterey Canyon, one of the deepest of its kind off the coast of the United States. It stretches about 4,000 meters in depth, surpassing the depth of the Grand Canyon. 

Bioluminescence and zooplankton expert Haddock came up for air from his research to tell tales about the diversity of the underwater world, not to mention his discoveries regarding siphonophores, ctenophores, and various other classes of jellyfish — which turned out highly mysterious creatures, as far as science is concerned. 

Through his dedicated and highly specified research, Haddock is shedding light on what lies beneath. Reconsidering previous discoveries and challenging everything previously known about these deep-sea and open-ocean ctenophores, siphonophores, radiolarians, medusae and deep-sea gelatinous zooplankton, the scientist has discovered many new species, and has put out a call to realign and redefine some of the branches on marine biology’s tree of life.

He offered us a simplified glimpse into the world he is slowly but assuredly helping to piece together, proving that sometimes, all it takes to reach a sound conclusion is to turn off the lights.

More specifically, the lights on his submersible, which allowed Haddock to see the light, meaning bioluminescence.

This became the highlight of Haddock’s lecture on Thursday. He closed his talk with video slides of various jellies lighting up the layers of sea where the sun don’t shine, using a chemically-produced mechanism to hunt prey, defend themselves, find mates, and survive in the unfamiliar world of the deep.

Want to help Haddock and his team put together a more comprehensive look at the behaviors of jellies? There’s an app for that. (And it rocks). Next time you see a jelly, a bloom of jellies, or an an unidentifiable invertebrate washed up on a beach, snap a pic and upload it to Jellywatch — it’s available on iTunes for free. Happy jelly-watching! 

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