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Monterey Menagerie On Assignment

Monterey Menagerie
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

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Grand Canyon of the Sea

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Monterey Menagerie Feature Image
Photograph by Bruce Robison    
By Virginia Morell



Off the coast of California an undersea canyon harbors an array of deeply strange creatures.



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"OK, there it is—our mystery mollusk." Bruce Robison leans in toward his color monitor. A ghostly creature resembling a cross between a megaphone and Thing, the Addams Family pet hand, floats on the screen. The soft, oval lips of its megaphone roll in and out, while the hand waves up and down, slowly and rhythmically.
 
The animal does not in the least resemble an earthly mollusk—an organism like a snail, oyster, or mussel with a firm shell protecting its soft body and that travels, if it must, on a single, podlike foot. This one is swimming free in the deep, dark waters of Monterey Canyon off California, more than a mile down, although the word "swimming" doesn't quite capture the creature's ethereal, yoga-like moves.
 
For a long moment it is quiet in the control room of Western Flyer, the state-of-the-art research vessel of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, where Robison, a bearded, graying Neptune, reigns as chief scientist. Next to the captain his word is law here, and he's seldom without something to say. But he now sits silently with his fellow oceanographers, peering at the mollusk's image on Flyer's bank of color monitors. There's only the sighing sound of the ocean heaving against the ship and, like a soft echo, the sound of the scientists' breathing.
 
Robison is the first to break. "How the hell does this animal work?" His question, asked with delight and frustration, illustrates how little is known about life in the ocean's deepest waters—even these waters about 60 miles [100 kilometers] offshore. 

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Journey two miles (three kilometers) down with a "ropecam" to discover the peculiar creatures of Monterey Canyon.



More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
When it comes to bioluminescence, the vampire squid has all kinds of tricks up its, er, arms. Scientists have long known about three light-emitting organs found at the base of its fins, behind its eyes, and scattered across its skin. Just recently, however, Bruce Robison and his team of scientists at MBARI conducted a series of field and laboratory observations and discovered two new sources of bioluminescence.
 
One of these was found at the tip of the squid's arms (all eight of them), which would light up in a shade of bright blue whenever the animal was lightly prodded. Stronger prodding caused the vampire squid to curl its arms over its head in a defensive display (see an example of this display on page 49 of the print article). This led to the discovery of the second new source of bioluminescence: The arm tips expel a sticky fluid containing small glowing particles. Much like how an octopus squirts dark ink to escape predators, it is believed that the vampire squid expels this luminous fluid as it flees from danger. Should this sticky fluid come into contact with the predator, it would become a very visible target for other predators lurking nearby—a "brilliant" twist of fate.
 
—Karen C. Font
Did You Know?

Related Links
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)
www.mbari.org
Read about the new discoveries that Robison and many other MBARI scientists are making in the rich habitat that is Monterey Canyon.
 
Monterey Bay Aquarium's Deep Sea Living Species List
www.mbayaq.org/efc/living_species/default.asp?hab=9
Want to see more images of deep-sea creatures? Monterey Bay Aquarium has created a nifty list of a handful of these that will make your eyes pop. Access other marine habitats, or navigate by species type.
 
Bioluminescence Page
www.lifesci.ucsb.edu/~biolum/index.shtml
Learn more about the chemical processes that make bioluminescence possible as well as the differences among bioluminescence, phosphorescence, and fluorescence.

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Bibliography
Cornfield, Richard. The Silent Landscape: The Scientific Voyage of HMS Challenger. Joseph Henry Press, 2003.
 
Dennis, Carina. "Marine Biology: Close Encounters of the Jelly Kind." Nature (November 6, 2003), 12-14.
 
Herring, Peter. The Biology of the Deep Ocean. Oxford University Press, 2002.
 
Kozloff, Eugene N. Invertebrates. Saunders College Publishing, 1990.
 
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). MBARI's First Decade: A Retrospective. MBARI, 1997.
 
MBARI. "Big Red Jelly Surprises Scientists," MBARI press release, May 5, 2003. Available online at
www.mbari.org/news/news_releases/2003/nr03-matsumoto.html.
 
Randall, David J., and Anthony P. Farrell, eds. Deep-Sea Fishes. Academic Press, 1997.
 
Robison, Bruce, and Judith Connor. The Deep Sea. Monterey Bay Aquarium Press, 1999.
 
Robison, Bruce, and others. "Light Production by the Arm Tips of the Deep-Sea Cephalopod Vampyroteuthis infernalis." Biological Bulletin (October 2003), 102-109.

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NGS Resources
Conniff, Richard. "Jelly Bellies." National Geographic (June 2000), 82-101.
 
Earle, Sylvia A, and Wolcott Henry. Wild Ocean: America's Parks Under the Sea. National Geographic Books, 1999.
 
Chadwick, Douglas. "Blue Refuges: U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries." National Geographic (March 1998), 2-31.
 
Tourtellot, Jonathan B. "Aquariums go for the Wow." National Geographic Traveler (July/August 1997), 28, 30-1.
 
Hughes, Catherine. "The Wonders of Treasure Bay." National Geographic World (May 1995), 2-7.
 
Gore, Rick. "Between Monterey Tides." National Geographic (February 1990), 2-43.

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