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Deep-sea Shrimp Trip Light Fantastic


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Deep-sea shrimp trip light fantastic

SCIENTISTS and fishermen have known for years that many mammals, fish and bacteria, living in the depths of the world's oceans, have the ability to glow in the dark.

An estimated 90 per cent of marine life uses a chemical reaction known as bioluminescence to emit light from their bodies.

Now a team of marine scientists, led by Scottish-based researchers, have captured for the first time on film spectacular light shows, created by tiny creatures in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. They include football-sized balls of light being made by animals squirting luminescence into the water.

Scientists believe that the creatures responsible for the amazing displays are tiny shrimp, no larger than 4mm in length, and that they are creating the balls of light to scare off predators, alert other shrimps to food stocks or even advertising for sex.

Some of the balls of light are a vivid blue and others a mixture of green and red. And the researchers have already identified two "hotspots" of deep sea bioluminescence in the Atlantic - one at 3,200 metres off the coast of tropical West Africa and the second much closer to home, off the west coast of Ireland near a cold-water coral reef known as the Belgica Mounds.

The dramatic images were captured on film using an unmanned camera in a research project involving Aberdeen University's Oceanlab, the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton and Bristol University.

Professor Monty Priede, the director of Oceanlab, said yesterday: "This is the first time anyone has recorded spontaneous light emissions by bottom-living animals on the deep sea floor.

"These are important findings and I find it incredible that you can discover something completely new like this in an area where fishing vessels regularly go. It was amazing to discover something so spectacular so close to home in waters we thought we knew very well.

"There has been trawling in the area by Scottish and Irish trawlers for years. Some deep sea fish will flash in distress at having been caught. But nobody has realised there are these bright light displays on the sea floor below them."

He stressed the team had only begun to try to unravel the mystery. But they are convinced that a tiny shrimp is at least responsible for the light shows off the Irish coast.

"They are obviously having some kind of a conversation between themselves through the medium of flashing and squirting lights," said Prof Priede.

"We think some of the light displays are the shrimps trying to tell the bigger fish to keep away - they are scaring off predators. The squirting could be defence mechanism. While the predators are blinded or distracted by the ball of light, the shrimp makes its escape.

"But they may also be using the light to advertise that there is food to their friends. And they may be using it to advertise the fact that they are ready to mate and start laying eggs.

"So far we have only discovered two hotspots of deep sea light. But we are convinced there is much more to be discovered."

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