Blackwater divers bring to light rarely seen photos of deep-sea creatures at night

Hooked on Science

Images of live (left) and fixed (right) larvae of: (A) Bathophilus, USNM 447003, 19 mm. (B) Zu cristatus, USNM 447018, 9 mm. (Figure 5 from Ai Nonaka, Jeffrey W. Milisen, Bruce C. Mundy, G. David Johnson in Ichthyology & Herpetology 2021 by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (https://www.asih.org) is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

(NEXSTAR) – It’s known as “blackwater diving,” and it’s bringing to light incredible images of tiny larval fishes rarely seen by the average person’s eyes.

Blackwater diving is nighttime SCUBA diving in “epipelagic environments,” or places in the ocean where it’s light enough for photosynthesis to occur.

Images of live (left column) and fixed (right column) larvae of: (A) Himantolophus albinares, USNM 447045, 4 mm. (B) Gigantactis vanhoeffeni, USNM 447056, 7 mm. (C) Melanocetus johnsonii, USNM 447048, 5 mm. (D) Pseudogramma brederi, USNM 446998, 9 mm. (Figure 3 from Ai NonakaJeffrey W. MilisenBruce C. MundyG. David Johnson in Ichthyology & Herpetology 2021 by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (https://www.asih.org) is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

A new paper, published this week in the journal Ichthyology and Herpetology, highlights the incredible images created by citizen scientists with a passion for nighttime diving.

The images seen here were created off the coast of Kona, Hawaii, generally with macro lenses that can capture the minuscule sea creatures. The larval fishes are presented alive and in situ, meaning in their habitats — a rare sight for anyone who rarely ventures into the deep beyond.

According to the paper, as blackwater diving rose in popularity, the hobbyists began posting their photos on Facebook, seeking help identifying them.

With the newly published paper, the authors hope to create channels for a more formal collaboration between citizen divers and scientists.

The authors believe that, “with the right motivation, blackwater diving could augment research in the pelagic ocean and significantly enhance natural history collections and our knowledge of the larvae of marine fishes.”

Images of live (left column) and fixed (right column) larvae of: (A) Forcipiger longirostris, USNM 446995, 12 mm (with reduced dorsal view). (B) Aluterus monoceros, USNM 447044, 11 mm. (C) Samariscus triocellatus, USNM 447030, 14 mm. (Figure 4 from Ai NonakaJeffrey W. MilisenBruce C. MundyG. David Johnson in Ichthyology & Herpetology 2021 by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (https://www.asih.org) is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

They ultimately conclude that “recreational diving could contribute much to studies of the pelagic ocean.”

(A) Images of live (left), fixed (right) larva of Brama orcini, USNM 447023, 6 mm. Images of fixed larvae of (B) Brama orcini, USNM 447025, 7 mm; (C) Brama orcini, USNM 447024, 6.5 mm. (Figure 8 from Ai NonakaJeffrey W. MilisenBruce C. MundyG. David Johnson in Ichthyology & Herpetology 2021 by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (https://www.asih.org) is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

For the average viewer, however, the images are — at the very least — fascinating and provide a glimpse into a world rarely seen by land dwellers.

“Why these images are so spectacular and so popular is they’re so otherworldly,” underwater diver Ned DeLoach told the New York Times. “People have never imagined that creatures like this exist, and that has attracted photographers.”

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