Living Things, nature, Science for Everyone

Bioluminescence or How Scientists Found the Giant Squid

I spent a summer pursuing research on Catalina Island off the coast of California while I was in college. The program leaders told us that if we filled a clear container with sea water off the dock at night and shook it, then the container would start glowing. Naturally, we decided to test this information at our earliest opportunity.

We headed down to the dock (while keeping an eye out for the rogue bison that had been hanging out at the marine station recently – yes there are bison on this island. But that’s another story), filled our jars, and gently shook them. Each of our jars began emitting a soft glow. We were witnessing bioluminescence.

Bison on Catalina PC:Bison on the Island CC-BY-2.0

Now, this was not my first time seeing bioluminescence. I grew up chasing fireflies with my sister. But this experience was different for me. I’d studied the science behind the phenomenon the previous semester, and I now had a new appreciation for it. 

Bioluminescent Jellyfish PC:Chris Favero CC-BY-SA 2.0

Bioluminescence is a biochemical reaction that occurs in some species. These special organisms have compounds that react to produce light. For some species, the glow helps attract mates (like fireflies), while for others it can lure prey (looking at you angler fish). Scientists have been studying it for centuries, but they have only just recently figured out how to harness it to make scientific discoveries ranging from drug discovery, pollution analysis, and, even to discover mysterious species.

A team of scientists used bioluminescence to find the giant squid. They created an underwater vehicle that mimicked a glowing jellyfish to lure the enigmatic animal. It was the first time that a living giant squid had been documented on camera. Why did the jellyfish help? Find out the answer to that question and more information about the giant squid in the video below:

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