Edith Widder: Incredible Photos of Bioluminescent Sea Creatures

Edith Widder (born 1951) is an American oceanographer, marine biologist, and the Co-founder, CEO and Senior Scientist at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association.

A specialist in bioluminescence she has been a leader in helping to design and invent new instrumentation and techniques that enable scientists to see the ocean in new ways. These include HIDEX, a bathyphotometer which is the U.S. Navy standard for measuring bioluminescence in the ocean, and a remotely operated camera system, known as Eye in the Sea (EITS), an unobtrusive deep-sea observatory.

 *click on images for a large view.
The deep-sea shrimp (Acanthephyra purpurea) spews bioluminescence out of its mouth, like a fire-breathing dragon. The light serves to distract or temporarily blind a predator like this viper fish (Chauliodus danae). To create this image, Edith Widder combined low-light video of the spewing shrimp with a flash photograph of the shrimp and the viperfish photo.

"Success in life depends on how well you handle Plan B. Anyone can handle Plan A." 
~ Edie Widder

If the jellyfish is caught in the clutches of a predator, it tries to lure a larger predator to attack its assailant, giving it an opportunity to escape.

Inhabiting depths from 500 to 2,500 meters, the viperfish (Chauliodus sloani) has light organs everywhere — on the belly, in the mouth, in the scales, in the fins, in a mucous layer that lines the back and belly and one under each eye — all used for different purposes.

The light organs of the deep-sea scaleless dragon fish inspired Edith Widder to develop the Eye-in-the-Sea camera. It produces red bioluminescence from light organs on the face and uses it like a sniper scope. Because it can see red light that most deep sea animals can’t, it can see without being seen.
This blackdevil angler fish, Melanocetus johnsonii, has a luminescent lure that she uses to attract prey and to identify herself to potential mates Edith Widder. Unlike most animals in the ocean that synthesize their light-producing chemicals from the food  they eat, this angler fish produces light with the aid of bioluminescent bacteria.

"As I descended through the depths, tethered to the surface inside my bulky bubble-headed diving suit, I was completely unprepared for the beautiful show to come, when at 880 feet below the surface of the sea, I turned out the lights. While I bobbed gently up and down like a tea bag on its string, I was engulfed in explosions of light, swirling and streaming like the wildly chaotic stars in Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”
 ~ Widder

The common comb jelly (Bathocyroe fosteri) is found 200 to 1,000 meters below the ocean surface. It produces bioluminescence from along its comb rows. Though its body is transparent, its gut is pigmented to mask the light emitted by its luminescent prey.

The cheek lights on the deep-sea Loosejaw Stoplight Fish(Malacosteus sp.) may serve to locate prey in the dark, but they likely also function in mate selection, since the organs of males are much larger than those of females. When not in use, these lights can be rotated and pulled back into the fish’s head, sort of like the headlights on some cars. They also can be flashed on and off. So why retract them? Probably because they have a highly reflective layer that helps direct light outward. This shiny surface, in contrast to the fish’s velvety black body, might inadvertently reveal the animal’s whereabouts to predator or prey.

Blue is the most common color of bioluminescence in the ocean, but there are interesting exceptions, like this deep-sea polychaete worm (Tomopteris).

Deep-sea cranchid squid Taonius pavo by Edith Widder

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