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Rare look at animals in the ocean twilight zone

The ocean is so vast that it can be hard for scientists to find the species they want to study. That’s why two ocean robots are better than one for capturing these rarely-seen glimpses of twilight zone animals!

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eDNA in the Twilight Zone

A new tool called environmental DNA, or “eDNA” is helping scientists understand the ocean twilight zone, a dimly-lit region of the ocean roughly 100-1000 meters deep. The twilight zone covers a vast area of the globe, and is chock-full of marine life. Despite its massive size, though, scientists are still trying to figure out what species live down there. By analyzing eDNA in samples of seawater, researchers are starting to identify which organisms live in the zone, even if they never actually lay eyes on them. In this video, learn more about how eDNA works, and discover what it can reveal about this huge marine ecosystem.

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Ocean Encounters: Weirdly Wonderful Creatures of the twilight zone

Dive with us into the ocean twilight zone—the weirdest place on Earth. This vast, dark, barely explored layer of the ocean is home to countless weirdly wonderful creatures whose uniqueness also gives them superpowers to survive in a world of darkness, extreme pressure, frigid cold, and superpowered predators. The twilight zone is a place of wonder, mystery, and abundance that reminds us our choices mean the difference between a future of loss and sustainability.

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Three ships, one ocean twilight zone

In May 2021, members of WHOI’s Ocean Twilight Zone project braved the rough seas of the Northeast Atlantic aboard the Spanish research vessel Sarmiento de Gamboa. Their mission: locate the spring phytoplankton bloom and measure how carbon moves through the mysterious mid-ocean “twilight zone.”

The Sarmiento joined two other research vessels funded by NASA’s EXPORTS program to intensively study the area. This remarkable and rare coordination of 150 scientists from several organizations, and crew on three different ships, was years in the making.

Watch as the WHOI research team, led by Ken Buesseler and Heidi Sosik, deploys innovative new imaging technologies and hauls up hundreds of fascinating specimens from the deep sea. Along the way, you’ll gain an endless appreciation for the vast, weird, and wonderful ocean twilight zone – without getting wet.

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Ocean Twilight Zone Art

Learn how to draw and paint the marvelous creatures of the ocean twilight zone and pick up some fun facts about their anatomy and behavior along the way!

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A Window into the Twilight Zone

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution oceanographer Andone Lavery and her team of scientists and engineers have created the ultimate tool for exploring the largest, least known habitat on Earth—the Twilight Zone, a layer of the ocean beyond all but the dimmest sunlight. What they find might change our understanding of deep-ocean life.

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The Ocean Twilight Zone: Earth’s Final Frontier

The mysteries of the ocean twilight zone are waiting to be explored. What was once thought to be desert-like isn’t a desert at all. Where the deep sea creatures lurk there are incredible biomass and biodiversity. The ocean twilight zone is a huge habitat that is very difficult to explore. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is poised to change this because we have the engineers that can help us overcome these challenges. Making new discoveries in ocean exploration is more important now than ever.

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Value Beyond View: The Ocean Twilight Zone

How does the ocean twilight zone benefit life on Earth? The ocean twilight zone helps regulates our climate. Storing two to six billion tons of carbon annually. That’s up to six times the amount of carbon emitted from autos worldwide. Preventing an increase in temperature between 6-11°F. The ocean twilight zone supports a healthy ocean ecosystem. Containing 10 times more fish than the rest of the ocean. Providing food for many other animals in the ocean. The ocean twilight zone could also play an important role in feeding a growing population. We are working to better understand this realm in order to inform sustainable management decisions.

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Tagging Sharks to Study the Twilight Zone

Former WHOI Joint Program graduate student and current University of Washington postdoc Camrin Braun and his team on the charter fishing vessel Machaca managed to tag two porbeagles, a relative of the goblin shark, about 30 miles east of Chatham, Mass. One was a female nearly seven feet long and weighing 270 pounds. A male came alongside the boat while the team was tagging her and, when they were finished, they quickly hooked the curious male, which measured 6.5 feet and weighed 230 pounds.

Both fish are now equipped with fin-mounted SPOT satellite tags, which will report their location each time they surface and can last up to five years. For the Ocean Twilight Zone team, the big predators are an important indicator of where mesopelagic animals are collecting deep below the surface. In short, the predator will go where the prey is.

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A pop of red in the twilight zone

This bejeweled beauty is a strawberry squid (Histioteuthis reversa), sampled from the ocean twilight zone, a mysterious stratum of the ocean between the sunlit surface layer and extending down to about 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) deep.

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Jellies of the Twilight Zone

Jellyfish have lived on earth more than 600 million years, and boast a diverse evolutionary history. Most jellyfish species live in the Twilight Zone. Little is known about this ocean region since it is vastly unexplored, but Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is on a mission to change that. With their new Mesobot, the institution plans to study the Twilight Zone and the creatures that call it home.

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New Eyes in the Twilight Zone

Members of WHOI’s Ocean Twilight Zone team, particularly the lab led by marine biologist Annette Govindarajan, are pioneering the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling and analysis to provide a more finely tuned picture of what lives deep beneath the surface of the ocean.

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Minion robots in the Ocean Twilight Zone

Phytoplankton use sunlight and carbon dioxide to grow, forming the base of the ocean food web. Phytoplankton are eaten by zooplankton, which are eaten by other animals. Dead zooplankton and other particles become marine snow drifting in the ocean, but how much marine snow sinks below the sun-lit ocean surface? Scientists are developing a new device
that will follow marine snow into the ocean’s twilight zone.

The MINION is a small (2 Liters) inexpensive instrument. It is equipped with… cameras, seawater sensors, acoustic recorder, ballast weight. Once deployed, MINION will sink to the twilight zone and drift with currents.

Cameras on the side record the rate and quantity of particles falling through the ocean. Falling particles also accumulate on a clear glass panel. A camera on top will record the particle type and accumulation rate.

Similar images have revealed the twilight zone is a perpetual snowstorm, of organic debris. Particles such as this fecal pellet from a jellyfish-like salp are extremely carbon-rich. Pellets like this will sink quickly to deeper waters, or even become buried in the seafloor. Any marine snow that reaches the deep ocean means less carbon in the atmosphere.

The MINION is designed to listen for underwater sound sources. This will determine their location as they drift.

After a MINION has finished its mission, it will release weight and float to the surface. At the surface, it sends a homing signal so it can be recovered. The next generation of MINION will send compressed data-sets via satellite. Allowing them to be deployed by the dozens. Data from MINIONS will help scientists learn more about the ocean’s role in Earth’s climate system.

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Creatures of the Ocean Twilight Zone

The ocean twilight zone is home to innumerable mysterious creatures. Most of them are very small. Some glow in the dark. Others are just plain bizarre. They all play an important role in maintaining the health of this complex ecosystem. An ecosystem we are only beginning to understand.

This was part of a mission in spring of 2019 where several members of the OTZ Project team conducted an expedition aboard OceanX’s research vessel, the M/V Alucia, out of the Bahamas. The main goal of the expedition was to examine how the OTZ project site off the coast of New England differs from this distant –yet connected– region of the twilight zone. The team worked closely with OceanX to share their journey through video diaries and photographs of the extraordinary creatures brought on board throughout the cruise. The Ocean Twilight Zone is supported by the Audacious Project, a collaborative endeavor, housed at TED, to surface and fund ideas with the potential to create change at thrilling scale.

Video by Erik Olsen

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