September 23, 2010 · Uncategorized

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Just a quick note to start this series of posts off, everything I say here is my opinion and nothing more. No part of this post is intended to represent the thoughts or positions of another person or institution. I take full responsibility for the content of this blog.

In the next series of posts, I want to try to show the public a few images of the biodiversity that is at risk from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Communities of wildlife that are out of sight are often times overlooked when issues of environmental contamination come to pass. Deep water communities are no exception. All politics aside, the spill is as likely to impact the deep water communities of the Gulf as they have impacted the sea surface community and the shoreline community. My friend, Dr. J. Torres of the University of South Florida, College of Marine Sciences, is studying the impacts of the spill on the mesopelagic (200–1000 meters deep) and the bathypelagic (1000–4000 meters deep) communities in the Gulf of Mexico. I have had the great fortune to work with Dr. Torres on a couple of Gulf cruises. The images you see below are from those trips.

I’d like to thank the following for assistance in taking these images and in allowing me to participate in the cruises: The University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, The USF College of Marine Sciences, The Torres Physiology Lab, Dr. J. Torres, Dr. S. Burghart, Dr. C. Kovach, the crews of the RV Suncoaster and the RV Weatherbird II, Erica Hudson, Rebekah Baker, Eloy Martinez, Mark Schrope, Ester Quintana-Rizzo, Lara Henry, David Hollander, and Rob Walker.

The Tube-Eye (Stylephorus chordatus)
The tube-eye (Stylephorus chordatus) is in the family Stylephoridae. It is a mesopelagic and bathypelagic species with eyes modified to detect the slightest traces of light. This species feeds by sucking plankton (often copepods) into its small mouth opening. It catches prey by sucking water into its mouth, which is flexible and can expand many times larger than its normal volume. This species makes daily journeys through the water column, with the plankton it feeds upon, closer to the surface at night and deeper by day.
Constelationfish (Valenciennellus tripunctulatus)

Constelationfish (Valenciennellus tripunctulatus)

Diaphus species Image No1

A Headlight Fish (Diaphus species) in the family Myctophidae.

Mctophid LR

A Lanternfish in the family Myctophidae.

Myctophid No2 LR

A Headlight Fish (Diaphus species) in the family Myctophidae.

Globe eye hatchet (Argyropelecus sp.)
Globe eye hatchet (Argyropelecus sp.)
Globe eye hatchet (Argyropelecus sp.)
Globe eye hatchet (Argyropelecus sp.). Deep sea hatchetfish have photophores (light producing organs) along the lower sides of their bodies. These organs produce a dim blue light. A predator looking upward from below might ordinarily see a fish silhouetted by the dim light from the ocean’s surface above it. However, the blue light from the photophores on the hatchetfish blend them in with the dim blue light from the ocean’s surface. This is known as counterillumination.
Globe eye hatchet (Argyropelecus aculeatus)
Globe eye hatchet (Argyropelecus species)
Snipe Eel
Snipe Eel. Snipe eels, family Nemichthyidae, have a delicate looking mouth. The “beak” of the eel has miniature backward facing teeth. These teeth might be for grasping and holding the antennae of small crustaceans.
Dragon Fish (Borostomias monomena) No1

Dragonfish (Borostomias cf monomena). Dragonfish are a diverse group. The barbel attached the the chin has a bulb at the end of it that is bioluminescent. The "lure" is used to attract potential prey items.

The chin barbel of a Dragonfish (Borostomias cf monomena)

The chin barbel of a Dragonfish (Borostomias cf monomena)

Dragonfish (Borostomias cf monomena)

Dragonfish (Borostomias cf monomena)

Dragonfish (Echostoma species)

Dragonfish (Echostoma species)

Dragonfish (Pachystomias microdon)

Dragonfish (Pachystomias microdon)

Dragonfish (Echostomia cf barbatum)

Dragonfish (Echostomia cf barbatum). Often times Dragonfish have bioluminescent organs on their bodies aside from those at the end of their barbel. The large photophore slightly behind each eye on this species produced two colors of light, blue and red. There may have been a lens that slid over the front of the photophore to alter the color of light that was being produced.

A large photophore behind the eye of a Dragonfish (Echostomia cf barbatum)

A large photophore behind the eye of a Dragonfish (Echostomia cf barbatum)

Dragonfish (Echostomia cf barbatum)

Dragonfish (Echostomia cf barbatum)

Dragonfish (Possibly a species of Melanostomias)

Dragonfish (Possibly a species of Melanostomias)

Dragonfish (Possibly a species of Melanostomias)

Dragonfish (Possibly a species of Melanostomias)

Dragonfish (Possibly a species of Melanostomias)

Dragonfish (Possibly a species of Melanostomias)

The bioluminescent lure at the end of the barbel of a Dragonfish (Possibly a species of Melanostomias)

The bioluminescent lure at the end of the barbel of a Dragonfish (Possibly a species of Melanostomias)

Dragonfish (Stomias species)

Dragonfish (Stomias species)

The photophores on the side of a Dragonfish (Stomias species)

The detail of the scales and the photophores on the side of a Dragonfish (Stomias species) is spectacular.

The business end of a Viperfish (Chauliodus sloani)

The business end of a Viperfish (Chauliodus sloani)

The photophores on the side of a Viperfish (Chauliodus sloani)

The photophores on the side of a Viperfish (Chauliodus sloani)

Viperfish (Chauliodus sloani)

Chauliodus sloani, Sloane’s viperfish, is a deep water, mesopelagic predator. It has photophores on its face and body that produce light (bioluminescence). It also has photophores associated with its mouth. This species is known to migrate to shallower waters at night.

Viperfish (Chauliodus sloani)

Viperfish (Chauliodus sloani)

Triplewart Seadevil (Cryptopsaras couesii)

The Triplewart Seadevil (Cryptopsaras couesii) is an abyssal anglerfish. Anglerfish use a fleshy appendage protruding from their heads to attract prey. The "rod" portion of the structure is called an illicium. The end of the rod, the "lure," can come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes depending on the species. It is called an esca. The esca is bioluminescent. In most species, the illicium can be moved back and forth, closer and farther from the mouth of the fish. The illicium and esca are used to attract potential prey items.

Triplewart Seadevil (Cryptopsaras couesii)

Triplewart Seadevil (Cryptopsaras couesii)

The illicium and esca of the Triplewart Seadevil (Cryptopsaras couesii)

The illicium and esca of the Triplewart Seadevil (Cryptopsaras couesii)

The Humpback Blackdevil (Melanocetus johnsoni) an abyssal anglerfish

The Humpback Blackdevil (Melanocetus johnsoni) is an abyssal anglerfish. Every time you see an image of one of these toothy predators, you are looking at a female. The male anglerfish are tiny fish, sometimes less than 1/20th the size of the female. Males follow pheromone trails in the water to locate females. In many species, the males will bite the females when they find them and hold on. Over time, the skin of the male and female fuse and the male's circulatory system links up with that of the female. The male will spend the rest of his life attached to the female, serving as little more than a sperm producing structure.

The Humpback Blackdevil (Melanocetus johnsoni) an abyssal anglerfish

The Humpback Blackdevil (Melanocetus johnsoni) an abyssal anglerfish

Part of the science team from the September 2010 cruise. From left to right: Dr. Charles Kovach, Dr. Danté Fenolio, Dr. Scott Burghart, Dr. Jose Torres

Part of the science team from the September 2010 cruise. From left to right: Dr. Charles Kovach, Dr. Danté Fenolio, Dr. Scott Burghart, Dr. Jose Torres

Written by Dante


13 comments on “The Gulf of Mexico oil spill – What is at stake deep below the surface? VERTEBRATES”

  1. Henry Robison:

    Fantastico! There are some really mean looking dudes down there in the abyssal zone of the Gulf. Your images portray them as wonders of the marine environment and are the best I have ever seen Dante! Makes me want to study marine deepwater fishes! Ha!


  2. Mark Mandica:

    Danté… these are fantastic! Amazing critters that I would have otherwise never been able to see. I wouldn’t want to meet that dragonfish in a dark alley


  3. Dante:

    Henry and Mark,

    Thanks so much for the comments. I hope people realize the biodiversity that is at risk owing to the oil spill. All of these communities of organisms are tied to one another. Damaging one food web will impact others. The ripple effects through associated ecosystems may take years to play out. Even if you don’t care about biodiversity, there are lots of people and industries feeling the effects: the sport fishing community, the shrimping industry, the commercial fishing industry, tourism to the gulf states… just to name a few.

    Cheers and Thanks!


  4. Dr. Tom:

    Dante’

    At the risk of repeating myself (i.e. earlier comments on your always wonderful images)

    1. AWESOME :-)

    2. SUPERCALIFRAGILSITICEXPIALIDOCIOUS

    My only suggestion is to provide a size scale in your captions.

    Take care, Tom

    PS Since I have published about the similarities and contrasts among cave and deep-sea fish, it is great to see some of the deep-sea species!!


  5. R Middleton:

    Having scoured the web for deep sea fishes these are rare images indeed of such glorious fragile creatures. I can only wish for more and video too which harldy exists.
    This type of stuff is like space exploration, in fact it is space exploration – deep (ocean) space exploration. Many thanks!
    “Protect Planet Ocean”
    - Middo


  6. Dante:

    Hi Middo-Can’t thank you enough for your kind words. I am VERY lucky to have a few marine biologists that put up with me and allow me to tag along on their deep sea cruises. I simply try to make the most out of it. I figure that if I can nail down some clean shots, they will benefit because I give them full rights to use the shots in their work.
    Cheers & Thanks


  7. Dante:

    Hi Tom-Great advice. I’ll try to include sizes in more of my written descriptions. I think folks would be surprised when they learn just how small most of these life forms are.

    Cheers & Thanks!!


  8. Dante:

    Henry-If I had to do it over again and I knew as a young graduate student what I know now, I might have easily switched my study group to cephalopods or deep ocean fish. Just amazing in about every aspect of their biology and ecology.

    Thanks!!!


  9. Ainhoa:

    I have been working on myctophids and stomiiforms for 4 years, and looking for pictures to illustrate my work, I have found your amazing pictures. I appreciate the hard work to get a good picture of this creatures. Superb!


  10. Dante:

    Hi Ainhoa-Myctophids are some of my favorites. Their scales make them a little more challenging to capture photographically but they are well worth it. Email me (dante@anotheca.com) if you need images to illustrate your work.
    Cheers & Thanks-Dante


  11. Ainhoa:

    Great Dante!! :) I will do it soon!!


  12. Yasmine:

    Hatchetfish are great fish. If you decide to get some, make sure you have dimemr lighting or some kind of floating plants so that the light intensity at the surface is not blasting them. They need to be kept in groups, because like tetras, these fish are skittish in too small of numbers. You will see them more and be able to observe their natural behavior better with a group of them.Also, these fish are literally flying fish . They can leap lengths of 4 feet out of water they are excellent jumpers, so make sure your tank has a good hood on it, and when you do partial water changes, be careful not to spook them while the hood is off or open.The only other kind i know of are marbled hatchets, which have black swirls mixed within their silver bodies. Very beautiful.


  13. Dante:

    Thanks for your comment Yasmine. These are marine Hatchetfish rather than the freshwater species you have described above, which can be kept in home aquariums. Marine Hatchetfish are still difficult to keep in aquaria owing to the pressures of the environments they live in. Perhaps one day and aquarium like Monterey Bay Aquarium will figure out how to keep and display the amazing deep sea species.


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