Posted on May 1, 2019
Posted on May 1, 2019
By Jessie Perelman, Safina Center “Kalpana Chawla Launchpad Fellow”
From long fangs to massive eyes, expandable jaws to bioluminescent lures, fishes of the ocean’s ‘twilight zone’ are peculiar, to say the least. The twilight (mesopelagic) zone lies at a depth between 200-1,000 meters in the ocean, where the last rays of sunlight begin to disappear and darkness encroaches. It’s no surprise that the animals living in this environment have some pretty amazing adaptations that allow them to survive here.
Finding food in this expansive and borderless habitat can be a challenge, as a fish may only encounter a meal on rare occasions. So, the seemingly odd adaptations are actually quite effective for capturing prey and making use of what minimal light exists at these depths. But it’s not just the external features of mesopelagic fish that are so unique. The bones of these animals might actually tell us a more detailed story about how they function and behave, and this is valuable for animals that live too deep to observe alive.
I am on a mission to see what we can learn from studying the bones of mesopelagic fish, and recently travelled to Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL) in Washington State to begin this endeavor- one that I hope will provide a new perspective on deep-sea biodiversity.
Using FHL’s high-resolution micro-CT scanner in collaboration with a campaign called oVert, I generated 3D images of nearly 300 preserved museum specimens spanning 90 species of fishes. Because these organisms are difficult to collect and many are rare in museum collections, CT scanning is a great way to study their internal anatomy nondestructively. Plus, it provides stunning images of these crazy creatures!
The oVert project is a four-year campaign to provide open-source, 3D digital models of more than 80% of all vertebrate genera on Earth to scientists, educators, and the public. Fishes, reptiles, birds, you name it. The ambitious movement is constructing a game-changing database of biodiversity, and I am honored to contribute to the efforts with a broad range of mesopelagic fishes. These CT scans will be explored over the next few years, answering questions about form and function in the deep sea, and adding to the mysterious story of the ocean’s twilight zone.