Coral Sea Lanternfish Project

Australian Marine Ecology is excited to be contributing to the Coral Sea Lanternfish Project in October-November 2014. Lanternfishes are small fishes that occur in the water column of deep oceans, usually between 200 and 1500 m deep (mesopelagic). Although lanternfish are quite small, 2-15 cm, they are one of the most important components of the world’s ocean ecosystems. There is a high diversity of species, comprise a very high biomass and are an important component of the food chain. Being mesopelagic, they inhabit the gloomy depths of the ocean and each night they migrate to shallower depths, following zooplankton prey migrations. Lanternfishes are so called because they have light-producing organs, photophores, that emit a weak blue or green light, which is used for camouflage and social behaviour.

In November-December each year, one species of lanternfish Diaphus danae aggregate in huge numbers east of the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea. Co-occurring with these aggregations are predators such as tuna, squid, billfishes, whale sharks and thresher sharks. This aggregation event is the subject of ongoing investigations by Dr Adrian Flynn (Fathom Pacific) and the University of Queensland. The project will involve an intensive field program of 18 days, bringing together scientific experts from around Australia and use cutting edge technology. The project is lead by Dr Adrian Flynn (Fathom Pacific) with the support of The University of Queensland. Also on the scientific team are Alan Goldizen and Wen Sung Chung (University of Queensland), Dianne Bray (Museum Victoria), John Rumney (Eye to Eye Encounters), David Whillas (Seabotix Australia) and Matt Edmunds (Australian Marine Ecology). The project is supported by The Dalio Foundation, including provision of the MV Alucia and cutting edge video and imagery equipment.

The project involves two nine day voyages on the PMG Pride and then the MV Alucia. We are focussing on imaging techniques, including special low light and stereo (3D) video mounted on ROVs and a manned submersible. We will also be sampling lanternfish, eggs and larvae using a scientific trawl net (RMT8), plankton nets and deep drifting cameras. Much of the work will be at night, when the aggregations come up to ‘shallower’ depths. By day, we will be catching up on some sleep, but we will also be satellite tagging and observing any whale sharks we encounter. Occasionally, there are tuna aggregations at the surface during the day and any such rare events will also be part of our studies.

The scientific team is assembling in Townsville on 21 October for a week of preparations before heading to sea – stay tuned for more updates !

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